The Value of Vulnerability

    (By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

     Vulnerability: being open or susceptible to being wounded or hurt…the textbook definition alone is enough to make me wince. SUCH an uncomfortable feeling. 

    beach I am not a shrinking violet. No one would describe me as delicate, dainty or fragile. I never dreamed of the day my knight in shining armor would appear to save me, never planned out my dream wedding surrounded by a gaggle of girlfriends. I don’t cringe in the face of adversity. I prefer belly laughs to giggles, substance to wealth and I don’t
trust it when life goes smoothly. When difficulties arise, my answer is to panic on the inside and then plow on through whatever is in my path. I rally! I overcome! I fight the good fight! I keep it moving! I am woman! Hear me roar!

     I’ve got a confession to make. None of that changes the fact that I am scared in varying degrees all the time. I mean, ALL the time and that fear sometimes drives me to distraction. I worry about hurting the cashier’s feelings at the gas stations, I worry about pissing off my boss, I fear selling out, or ruining my relationship. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “why does my face look weird?” And then I’ll worry about THAT for an hour. Oh and that’s just scratching the surface. I fear failure and success. Most of all I fear doubt because in my experience it is a killer. I fear that I will be an awful parent to my imaginary squishy face dog that is part of my two-year plan. I fear that I’m not doing enough with my life. And oh! That age old fear that everyone is going to leave me. Corey is unworthy. Corey is weird. She is a screw up and will let you down…those awful whispering inner demons and fears…they pop up and manifest in a variety of ways that drive me temporarily insane and cause me to put on sweats and bury my head in a gallon of chocolate ice cream as if the solution is at the bottom of the carton. Usually, after gaining ten pounds or so, I revisit my coping strategies and begin to use healthier tools. Still, in a pinch, chocolate ice cream can be a life saver.

        I noticed that my anxiety tended to kick into high gear when I was feeling particularly vulnerable, so for years I did what I could to deny any vulnerability. Keep one foot on the ground. Never let em’ see you sweat. It’s hard to hit a moving target. None of that actually did anything to relieve my fears but it helped me ignore them for short periods of time. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in order to avoid the uncomfortableness of my anxiety, I was shutting myself off from some of the most basic necessities for genuine human relationships.

      Vulnerability and fear are not the same thing.  My fears, usually unreasonable and for the most part dismissible, are not emotions over which I have much control. Feelings are just feelings. Now, how I cope with them and how much focus I give them is up to me. I have power over that part of the equation. Allowing myself to be vulnerable is often a choice and that makes it an entirely different ball game.

        Why would anyone CHOOSE to be vulnerable? Why would I open myself up to the possibility of being hurt? Judged? Misunderstood? For many years, I refused. I mean, I let everyone in, but only so far and always with one foot on the ground. Always with an escape plan…and then I started writing again. Suddenly, I was fully putting myself out there; my fears, eccentricities, hopes, doubts, awkward moments, and biggest flaws. People responded! They RELATED. Through my writing process, I realized that my avoidance of vulnerability robbed me of the ability to be truly open. In allowing myself to be vulnerable, I have learned to trust myself and others. I’ve been able to reach people and remind them that they are not alone and I have opened my heart enough to love deeply and be loved in return. It is completely amazing, absolutely terrifying and so very worth it, because it is by embracing our vulnerability and owning those fears that true freedom can be achieved. 

To Thine Own Self Be True

(Written by guest blogger Corey Anne Rottella)

“We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be”. One of my favorite quotes by my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. It is a truth worth bearing in mind. We live in a society that thrives on comparing ourselves to others. We must keep up with the Joneses! We must achieve the “American dream”! Be skinny! Confident! thine-selfHave a career and 2.5 kids! Be…perfect! If you aren’t “successful” according to societal norms, then you must be doing adulthood wrong. Not only does that path lead to madness but it also robs us of all authenticity. There is no truth to it.

        How many masks does one have to wear? Work persona? Church persona? Family persona? A lifetime spent trying to live up to others perceived expectations is no life at all. It’s a self-imposed cage forged from comparing our insides with other people’s outsides. The truth is always deeper than the quick judgements we make based on our daily interactions with others. It’s impossible to know a person’s story based upon Facebook statuses or chit chat around the water cooler.

      Most of us feel an intrinsic need to present our best face to the world; that false self which we hope will meet or exceed other people’s expectations. In and of itself that seems pretty harmless, but is it really? I spent the majority of my life hiding behind a smile and convincing myself that everything is fine. I did it so long and so well that I never dealt with any negative truths going on around me or inside myself. I smiled as my inner and outer world crumbled down, slowly eroding all that I held of value. I smiled as I compared my inner self with all the fabulously “normal” people. I smiled and said I was fine as I was slowly and painfully killing myself…the lies you tell others hurt, but the lies you tell yourself can kill you.

       That was then and this is now. Today, through some effort and support, I am delightfully free. The key to my self-imposed cage was buried deep within me, but it was always there. I have learned to be honest with myself about who I am, how I feel and who I want to be. I no longer have time to worry about other people’s expectations. I am too busy defining my own. I am not skinny or rich. I don’t have a 401K and sometimes I pay my bills late. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m angry or lonely or sad. I’m ok with all of that today. Those feelings pass. They don’t own me because I’m honest about them. Mostly, I’m happy and so very grateful to have the ability to be my imperfect, scattered, easily overwhelmed, passionate authentic self every day in every interaction. That is true freedom.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care