I have recently written an open letter to myself in the form of a poem. After the first recital at the Taruwa open mic event, I received a ‘thank you’ from a member of the audience. Then what followed was a chat with a fellow poet who tells me that she is struggling with being honest with her work and is wondering how I am able to tell my truths without fear or shame.
At a subsequent event I performed my ‘Open Letter’ again and this time I received a hug and another thank you that for some reason sounded a little loaded. You can tell that ‘thank you’ is certainly new to me as a reaction to performance. I have heard other complements, but never ‘thank you’.
My poetry was not born out of any fascination with rhythm and rhyme or playing around with words, well not that I could remember but rather out of a dire need for catharsis. To that avail, I don’t know how to be anything other than open, truthful and honest about my experiences and situations; at least in reference to telling my own truths. For me to be honest enough though, I have always needed to be open to the idea of vulnerability.
I often feel like there might be something in the breast milk that prohibits us from expressing any kind of vulnerability and for sometime now I have been pondering what it is about being vulnerable that makes us so frightened that we would rather implode than let it out. I also wonder perhaps is there a seeming cultural pre-occupation with portraying perfection?
I recently came across a TED talk by researcher Brene Brown on the subject of vulnerability. She explains that at the core of vulnerability are shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness. Shame she says is the fear of disconnection. ‘is there something about me that if other people see it, I would not be worthy of connection?’ She adds that what underpins the feeling of shame is excruciating vulnerability and in order for connection to happen, we must allow ourselves to be really seen.
What for me is poignant about her talk is the thought that you cannot numb selectively. So Brene says that when we numb vulnerability, we numb joy, gratitude and happiness and then we are miserable because we are looking for purpose and meaning because vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love, belonging and beauty.
That said I find it interesting that night after night I’m listening to people bearing their souls to me on my radio show not particularly concerned by where I get my pseudo therapist responses to their pain but rather seeking some kind of release and just needing to be heard.
January had been an intense month. I had heard from a woman in an abusive relationship stabbed by her husband, a twenty year old former crack addict, an alcoholic who got deported, a former sex worker in Europe and just anything that stretches the human experience. Yet during an episode on the show asking why we seemed so afraid to be vulnerable, the plethora of answers consequently pointed toward shame. People were worried about what other people would think of them, they were concerned about how their families would be viewed, they agonise over becoming fodder for idle chit chat, ultimately petrified at the idea of being anything other than perfect.
I don’t think that to be vulnerable is synonymous with weakness but rather is a huge part of being human. In my own experiences, it has been a source of healing, connecting and renewed strength and on the contrary, it takes strength to be really seen just as you are. Despite my openness, I still struggle sometimes because the other people involved in my life still battle with the fear and shame so my own means of letting things out automatically forces them to be in a vulnerable place which for them is a place of great discomfort.
I remember when my friend wrote a piece about a skin condition she had been battling and her mother’s reaction to the article was anything but amusing. I also remember a lady who was heavily involved in autism awareness and stigmatisation but refused to be interviewed about her experiences raising a child on the spectrum because her husband didn’t like her talking about it. It is that burden that when you out yourself, you out us all.
So then, the question now is, how can you be open, how do you start the process of healing, how do you ask for help, how do you share and how do you tell your truth when you carry the burden of other peoples fears?
I titled my poetry project Dirty Laundry because anytime my brother had watched me perform, he would say ‘ Why you gotta put our dirty laundry out there in public ’ but Iv been lucky because they understand my intentions and I understand that many others don’t share that luxury.
For me, I have found that being able to be vulnerable is freeing, you no longer feel like you are waiting to die on schedule and what has been most empowering is discovering that there are other people experiencing the same things just as you are.
Brene Brown says in the conclusion of her talk that the solution is to let ourselves be deeply seen, because to be this vulnerable means that you are alive, and most of all to believe that you are enough.