I was seven years old when Elvis died.  My young, but romantically faceted inner-world Elviscontemplativeturned this news into a melancholy fantasy where Elvis was my husband and I was in mourning.  Upstairs in my mother’s bedroom , I stood before the mirror that hung above her dresser.  I pulled out a hairbrush and brushed my hair while pretend-crying and lamenting, Oh Elvis, Elvis.  I miss you already. I loved you…

I had no idea my little sister was watching this daydream come to life.

She had a ball telling my parents about the scene. I remember the laughing and ribbing. I remember my cheeks pinking up. I understand it was a hilarious scene, much too rich to leave alone, but from that experience and countless others, I learned to be very careful how I express myself. I learned it was not safe to expose yourself to judgment. You should hide any weak, soft feelings or behavior. Such emotions and gestures make you easy prey.

Wanted: A Safe Space
Before age 38, I had never felt complete acceptance and safety anywhere except with my grandparents. I had good friends. I had parents who loved me. I had a husband who loved me. But they were all cocooning their own vulnerability.  They were busy being strong and confident. With them, I had to be strong and confident too.
I felt unconditional love from Grandma.  I told her my deepest fears at 10 years old and she didn’t laugh or belittle. She just loved me in her soft, tender way.
people cryAt 38, I knew intuitively I needed openness and kindness.  I needed a circle of softness.  A safe space.  I believe I knew for years prior to that, but had no idea how to craft or create that kind of home. I only knew how to climb, achieve and fit in.
The Reflecting Tribe
I consciously gathered gentle souls — artists, musicians, writers, therapists, those whose eyes held twinkles, sadness and kindness. I pro-actively took lessons, joined classes and visited venues where the courageous, creative and emotionally accessible hung out. Music schools, bookstores, writing and dance classes, social services volunteering…
I remember sitting around a kitchen table with new-ish writing friends and feeling the intoxicating freedom of mutual vulnerability. We were all a little broken and in various broken_lockstages of learning and healing. We were all looking for a place where we could remove our masks of false bravado.
Lightness of being.
In that place I WANTED to share.  I couldn’t stop myself from sharing what had been locked down forever.
I moved from a world where mistakes were pointed out and right was better than kind, to a space where support was palpable and stories resonated.  Head nodding abounded.  My spirit soared.  It was easy to dream and feel grateful in that space. I wanted to spread that feeling, that spaciousness, but felt stunted in my regular world.
My day-to-day family life required all of us to have our shit together. No slipping, no falling short, no showing weakness.
You don’t want to be easy prey.
I don’t believe anyone in my house felt safe enough to be vulnerable. There was always a little sister watching and waiting to tell the story of our soft spots. Fear was in the ether of our home. We kept breathing it in and spewing it out. We couldn’t get it out of our pores.
manwalkingawaywomanforefrontUntil we broke open. Until we decided to end the cycle by ending the family as we knew it, thus, making us all vulnerable.
The Yin and Yang of Vulnerability
Life after divorce feels a little naked,  unprotected and separated from the herd. It’s scary at times but I see hints of learning and healing in my family.  Perhaps now WE can spread palpable support and understanding. Perhaps we will be the ones setting spirits aloft.

And I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, and creativity, of belonging, of love. — Brene Brown

Vulnerability expressed ignites the fuse of freedom in another. It’s a permission slip to imperfection.  It’s an exposed hand extended in inclement weather, reaching for warmth and providing it as well. It can be the catalyst for a life change. It is the source of the most profound connection.
Have you ever had your vulnerability mirrored? Have you ever let down your guard and found something extraordinary? Something hurtful?