The day after the worst day of my life I had to learn what vulnerability was. A friend of mine suggested I needed to go to a support group and share about what I was experiencing. After speaking with him, I told him I didn’t want to share. I was about to share something that I feared the most. I would be sharing about rejection that reached to the depths of who I thought I was.
What happened during the worst day of my life was to me my biggest failure and fear. The greatest attack on a man’s ego. It was the one thing outside myself that I was fully identified with. That was having a beautiful wife and strong family. My beautiful wife had an affair and slept with another man. I had suspected this happened before, but there was no denying it this time.
To help you understand this, I was married for 18 years. I was in a relationship with her for 20 years of my life. It started when I was seventeen, and we had three children. All of my adult life I was committed to this woman and I never knew anything else. I do not blame her, I did my part in pushing her away. I used drugs and alcohol to change the way I felt for most of our marriage. In the early days after her affair I thought I caused it and this made it especially difficult to share. I now know that her affair had nothing to do with me just like my using had nothing to do with her. When something you are tightly coupled with is no longer what you thought, it becomes a brutally painful decoupling process. This is especially hard when you believe they love you and would not hurt you.
In the early stages of my healing, I could obsess and replay those mental images over and over to the point I thought I was going crazy. I was traveling for work in Washington D.C. and spent two weeks in my hotel room alone. I had to create reminders to stop thinking about her affair. I wrote stop signs with dry-erase markers on the mirrors and windows in my hotel room. I later got a call from my manager asking if I was alright because the hotel called and reported me. I’m not sure if they thought I somehow defaced property with dry-erase markers or were generally concerned with my wellbeing. I’m sure there was an energy of pain that was left in that room over the two weeks of my stay. Either way it kind of reminds me of the movie a “Beautiful Mind” with Russell Crow. I was distraught and I was going crazy. At that point, I was not able to share my experience with my work or the rest of the world. The fact you are reading this illustrates the degree of healing I have undergone. I am creating a new level of vulnerability to connect with the world so that I may share my experience.
I shared at every group meeting I went to about her affair. Each time it was a little easier, but I was still fragile, but I talked about it until I felt like I didn’t have to hide it. This was when I learned about what being vulnerable means and the power of sharing it with a group of strangers.
I owe a large degree to my healing to being vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to allow connection with others on a deep spiritual level that connects to our deep inner self. We cannot truly be who we are without showing who we are. Part of who we are is how we feel. We make most of our decision on how we feel about them. However, our default way of living is to create a shield of who we really are and how we really feel. You cannot be authentic and you cannot be who you are if you put up a shield and mask. Many of us wear masks while living amongst others who are also wearing masks of their own.
Being vulnerable is to expose our mistakes and emotional wounds. We want to minimize our mistakes and protect our wounds. The problem with this is that those mistakes shadow our authentic self. We cannot escape this. What is interesting is that we can help others remove their mask by being vulnerable. They don’t feel alone and realize there are people who struggle just like them.
We do not want light shed on our mistakes due to fear. We want to wear a mask that radiates perfection. Since we are not impervious to mistakes, we must accept them and show them light since they have a way of repeating when not addressed. Since we cannot escape mistakes, we must face the fear of showing light to our mistakes otherwise we live under fear. We show light by sharing our feelings and confessing our mistakes. Living under fear creates a vicious cycle of struggle and will cripple the mind and body. This brings self-inflicted death to the mind, body and spirit.
Emotional wounds are not always something we have done to ourselves, they are often done to us by others. This causes us to use shields and armor to protect ourselves from getting hurt again. I know for me the wound I suffered from my wife’s affair could have been life ending had I continued down the same path. Instead, I was able to turn that pain into creating the life I desired. I could have kept hiding and using people, places and things to change the way I felt. I decided to surrender this pain by sharing it and expose my raw vulnerability. This has helped me create an amazing life. I can sit here now and say that pain was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
There is an inherent risk of being vulnerable and making oneself susceptible to get hurt. I know I do not like being hurt over and over again. So how do you become vulnerable without being hurt again? Even better yet, why would you want to put yourself in a vulnerable position? The truth is you can get hurt again and it doesn’t feel good. It is not until you have strength, through God, that you can feel truly capable of handling whatever comes your way. The love you develop for yourself and the love of others can be channeled to overcome any hurt that you can experience. It is my belief that part of God’s love is derived from being connected to others. God created us to live in relationship with others. To have these relationships, we must connect. To connect we must be vulnerable, we must be authentic. When we have learned to be vulnerable, we truly learn to connect to feel the unlimited love of the universe. God’s universal love is all around us and is much greater than any love we have ever felt. Think about the fact that God created the universe and everything within it. Now think about what love feels like. It is all around us on a universal scale.
Now how do you tap into this infinite love? For me, it comes down to surrendering ourselves completely, but specifically it comes down to being vulnerable. There is a release that happens when you can express to the world what you fear. There is freedom in being vulnerable and saying what you feel to others. It not only provides a means to no longer needing to hide and isolate. It helps us feel the grace and love from others when we walk through our own struggles in truth.
There are times when being vulnerable seems like it is not working. We can share something painful and whoever we share it with doesn’t offer grace, but instead offers judgment. Or perhaps they try to fix you or react negatively. This is one of the most important aspects of being vulnerable and a true tool for deciding who should be in your life. Those that do not offer grace while being vulnerable are indicators of people who should not be in your life.
These can seem like very painful experiences, but let me provide some perspective. If we are at a place where we know God’s love for us and we love ourselves, we will inevitably realize that people will let us down. We will know, however, that our capacity to handle any pain that comes to us actually strengthens with vulnerability. I understand this may not feel good at the moment, but we must continue onwards nonetheless. If we know these things, ask yourself if it is easier to have one painful experience with a few people or to have endless struggle having people in our lives that offer no grace of our vulnerability? It is your choice, but I have learned to let them go and only to allow people who bring grace into my life. Nobody is perfect and I do not expect perfect grace, but as soon as the negatives of a relationship outweigh the positives, this is usually a clear sign that that relationship needs to end.
Once you master the art of being vulnerable, you become to know yourself. You can remove the different masks and shields we become comfortable wearing. You can become who you really are because you are not hiding aspects of who you are anymore. Being vulnerable helps you to love yourself because you become accepting of yourself no matter what. It used to be for me hard to be vulnerable and it felt unnatural, but it is like an atrophied muscle that gets stronger with use. Once you are vulnerable and realize how accepting others are of you and you realize all of the grace and love that abounds. This helps you to love yourself because it shows you that you are worthy of it by others. Self-love becomes inevitable.
The irony in all this is that these loving people are the same as you and I are in many ways. Perhaps at just different stages or different symptoms. The problem is the same. We all get hurt and make mistakes but, when we share this, we connect and realize that we are all working together to love each other and ourselves as we grow through life. By our sharing of struggle, we connect and relate, we might help others who struggle and this healthy cycle perpetuates.
In full disclosure, I failed my family, I have had addiction issues, I have had financial issues and generally was not the best person. Today I am a good dad, cured my addictions and cleaned up my finances. I owe a large portion of getting my life on track to being vulnerable to some wonderful people in my life and thank you for letting me share.