written by Ashley Cunningham for Cheeky Business
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” – Brené Brown
This year, I lost myself. Or rather, I misplaced myself. I don’t think that anyone noticed – hell, I didn’t even fucking notice. I pride myself on being self-aware and I am almost embarrassingly vocal about that specific character trait. Jokes on me! In 2016, I learned that you can fool yourself. Over the past few days, I have realized that I have been lying to everyone, but perhaps what is more upsetting is that I have been lying to myself.
Burying my face in Facebook all year long, I looked at the pictures, the likes, the videos, the statuses of people my age who seemingly had their shit figured out. And I decided that I had failed. After graduation, I didn’t know where my voice was supposed to go anymore. So, in place of exploration, I put on the skin of someone everyone said they loved. She’s loud. She talks about sex constantly. She’s a self-proclaimed boss ass bitch, an overflowing spring of entertainment value. A grown ass woman who doesn’t care how much money she spends or what she puts in her body (or rather what she doesn’t put into her body). An unstoppable force that constantly lives out of her own backpack because she never knows where she is going crash next. She’s a hoot-and-a-half.
I love her. She’s the person who helped me fall in love with myself. Who helped me get out of bed in the morning – who stopped the suicidal thoughts – who gave me the confidence to push myself – who helped me find a voice that people listened to – who helped me find my passions.
She’s also holding me hostage, telling me that I can’t change. I was feeding a self-destructive persona – one that cares more about constantly being what other people want more than what the person living in that body actually needs. I stopped growing. I had decided at the ripe old age of 22 who I was supposed to be (read: who everyone told me I was) and in that process, I cut myself off from new experiences, new people, new opinions, and new opportunities.
For months, I have felt disillusioned and out-of-body. I constantly needed distractions because I was terrified to be left alone with myself. I always said I never wanted to be alone because “that’s just who I am.” Just like how not taking care of myself was “who I am.” Just like how going out every single night was just “who I am.” It’s amazing (horrifying) how long you can go without looking in the mirror. I feel like I have been submerged for months – not being able to breathe, but unable to come to the surface. If I came to the surface, I would actually have to start swimming. And what if I went in the wrong direction?
I felt exhausted every day. My body hurt every single moment. I pushed through it because I had the convenient excuse that, “I feel this way because I don’t eat, I smoke cigarettes, and I don’t drink water.” Not that all of those things weren’t contributing factors (they totally were), but I think my body and mind were rioting because they were sick of being a reflection of what everyone else wanted. Still, I was unwilling to say “stop.” Alright – stay with me here – but a Shel Silverstein poem that I used to love as a kid comes to mind. Here’s a little piece:
He’s the Twistable Turnable Squeezable Pullable
Stretchable Shrinkable Man.
And he lives a passable life
With his Squeezable Lovable Kissable Hugable
Pullable Tugable Wife.
And they have two twistable kids
Who bend up the way that they did.
And they turn and they stretch
Just as much as they can
For this Bendable Foldable
Twistable Turnable Man.
Almost unbreakable. I know it’s a children’s poem, but Shel Silverstein’s poems weren’t really kids poems, you know what I mean? And this twistable turnable girl is fucking over it. I’m ready to discover more parts of myself. To stop self-medicating. To listen to myself. To rekindle my fires. To make mistakes. To be vulnerable.
Oop. There it is. Found it. My greatest enemy: vulnerability. Well, my elusive foe, I think it’s finally time we got to know each other.
Noun: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
If you are like me and you struggle with vulnerability (and maybe have fallen down the same path that I lost myself in), I am here for you. I hear you. I’m personally taking my first step by reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. I just started it and I’m already being shaken to my core:
“I did believe that I could opt out of feeling vulnerable, so when it happened-when the phone rang with unimaginable news; or when I was scared; or when I loved so fiercely that rather than feeling gratitude and joy I could only prepare for loss-I controlled things…I performed until there was no energy left to feel. I made what was uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. I stayed so busy that the truth of my hurting and my fear could never catch up. I looked brave on the outside and felt scared on the inside.
Slowly, I learned that the shield was too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known. The shield required that I stay small and quiet behind it so as not to draw attention to my imperfections and vulnerabilities. It was exhausting…It never dawned on me that I could be loved for my vulnerabilities, not despite them.”
For too long, I’ve been hiding behind various things and calling it “vulnerability” and “courage.” Life is too short to not feed yourself. I challenge everyone reading this piece to find one thing in their lives that they could be more vulnerable about. I have a feeling – it might set us free.
Also, thanks for reading my emotional vomit.