I know I said I went down the rabbit hole last week and the truth is I never fully climbed out. I was hating being vulnerable and so I was fighting it, tooth and nail. When I wrote about the incident with the chairs at Rooster last week in “The Paradox of Tracy” it was an example of me getting in touch, ever so slightly, with some very real feelings that I now realize I had been trying to avoid. That bitchiness, as it turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg…
In preparation for the Self-Love Initiation Workshops I was scheduled to teach in October and November, I had become very focused on updating the material I had planned to cover and improving the way in which I wanted to deliver it. I was grateful to have this productive distraction, as it really helped me hold my shit together and feel less concerned about some of the other challenges I was still working through. But, as the second workshop approached, I grew more and more anxious and unable to manage the barrage of feelings that were coming up as a result of the other concerns in my life. Finally, on the day of the second workshop this past Thursday, I felt I would not get through the day without having a meltdown. Thankfully, my “witness” was still active and I was able to be somewhat objective about what was going on – at least to the degree that I could acknowledge that I was having wild overreactions to some technical glitches and inconveniences, and that what I needed was to feel safe and reassured that if I did “lose my shit” at some point, those around me wouldn’t judge me or abandon me.
To look back on that day, it was kind of amazing how courageous I actually was. It also gave me really convincing evidence that I have actuallychanged the way I react to feeling vulnerable. Instead of trying to hold it all together and show everyone around me how capable I am, especially when I’m feeling stressed, I reached out and told those people that I was feeling overwhelmed and bitchy and gave them a heads up that I might not show up that night as the calm, patient, resilient “Tracy they have come to know and love”. Part of me knew that once I got there and I started talking I’d be fine, but the little, scared girl inside of me wanted to be sure that, if I found myself reverting to “default” coping strategies and therefore behaving in a way that I might not be proud of, I could do so without anyone else being inadvertently hurt or annoyed. This experience was also a testament to the fact that I am surrounded by the most incredible friends, family and clients who are among the most compassionate, “safe” and non-judgmental people I have ever had the benefit of knowing. With these people, I knew that all I had to do was be honest about how vulnerable I was feeling and they would immediately understand and support me without taking anything I might do or say personally. As soon as I gave them that “heads up”, I felt much more relaxed, which was further confirmation that my anxiety was coming from a underlying feeling of vulnerability and not because of “actual” problem.
Of course, the evening was a great success and I felt really happy and relieved that it was behind me, but what I quickly realized the next day was that all the emotions about everything else I had “shelved” for the past several weeks had now become completely unavoidable. My body ached, my stomach churned, I had trouble sleeping and I was on the verge of tears most of the time. The painful thoughts that I had been pushing away now felt like infected stab wounds. There was no longer a choice. These emotions that I hoped I could simply set aside and “meditate away”, were not going anywhere. I needed to turn and face them. Even more important, I needed to visit with them for a while so I could learn what it was they were there to teach me.
As it turns out, I was pretty angry. Years and years of suppressing my emotions in favor of being compassionate or polite or avoiding conflict or feeling they weren’t valid had really built up. Since Saturday, I have been writing an “anger journal” and each day more and more stuff comes spilling out. It’s fucking torture, to say the least, but it’s also such a relief.
There is one part of it, however, that I’m not quite satisfied with yet, due to the fact that a lot of the anger I feel is toward certain people. And because I don’t feel they would be ready or willing to “hear” it, I am not able to get the validation from them that I need and deserve. On the other hand, I also feel that part of my journey right now is to let my pain be seen in “real-time”, so I’ve decided to read my anger journal aloud to my therapist. That may not seem like such a big deal for some, but for me it’s terrifying. While it is relatively easy for me to “tell” him (and others) what I feel, it’s been next to impossible to let him “see” it because I don’t want to be that vulnerable in front of another person and, even worse, I do not want to be consoled (held). Ironically, though, as I write out all my pain and anger, the one l thing I long for in those moments is simply to be held – yet it’s the one thing I never allow myself to receive because it would make me feel weak, small and incapable.
But, as frightening as it feels, I’m gonna do it anyway. In my quest to make decisions only out of love rather than fear, I cannot hide from this experience just because it scares me. I have to trust my therapist, as well as the other people in my life, to keep me safe and, in doing so, I am actually keeping myself safe. I am allowing myself to throw out a safety net, just in case I need it. Everybody needs a soft place to fall, every once in a while. Even me.
As I confront my deepest fears and most painful thoughts, I am stripping away layers of old, unhealthy residue from the past and revealing the most clear and simple truth about what I want. I want to feel safe. I want to feel satisfied and I want to feel connected. I also know (as of yesterday) that a huge part of feeling all three of those things is having a loving partner to share my life with as I pursue my life’s goals and live my purpose. In fact, that is much more important to me than simply achieving those goals alone. Because of that, I now know that even though I’m not willing to abandon my core needs or following my life’s purpose as it unfolds, I am willing to detach from the details substantially to accommodate the needs, purpose and goals of my partner. It’s not important how we climb the mountain, as long as we keep each other safe along the way so we can enjoy the journey together. And that is a vision I’m not willing to give up on.
Not surprisingly, these three “core needs” (Safety, Satisfaction & Connection) are an important part of what I teach in my Self-Love Workshops and Rick Hanson talks about them extensively in his latest book “Hardwiring Happiness”. So, it’s not that it’s a surprise to know that every human being is motivated by these three needs, but I find it interesting that, even though we can have an intellectual understanding of this, it is only truly transformational when we are “broken down” to a point where we know that, with every fibre of our being, nothing else really matters.
It changes everything.
What I’ve noticed is that the reason we get so confused about what it is that we actually “want” in life is because our ego tries to “dress up” our needs into looking like they are something more than they are. It tells us that, in order to feel that our needs are being met, certain expectations have to adhered to, certain rules must be followed, commitments honoured, romance sustained, achievements acknowledged, etc.. and if those things aren’t present we feel unsafe, unsatisfied and disconnected. But in my experience, our needs are so much more simple and basic than that and convincing ourselves that we need all of those things in the “dressed up” form can take us so far from where we really need to be.
Throughout this past year of feeling so lost, afraid and disconnected, but still being so committed to practicing being vulnerable as a path to Self-Love… even when it felt like there was nothing more I could surrender… I kept finding more and more layers that were covering my heart and my truth. I spent an entire year asking myself what I really want, and each time I thought I had it defined, circumstances pushed me to distill it even further. This, I believe, is the “unconditional” part of unconditional love. It’s not that “I want the relationship, as long as my partner is willing to “____”, or the job, as long as it pays “____”. or the experience, as long as I don’t have to “____”.
Rather, it’s “I want and deserve safety, satisfaction and connection in whatever form the universe sees fit to deliver it.”
And, if that is our wish, and we commit to learning how to create it in our hearts so we can recognize it when it comes along… how can we ever go wrong?