Oh how true this is. Vulnerability doesn’t go away with age, but rather it seems to only grow in some ways. Acceptance cannot come without awareness that you are vulnerable in the first place. If for any reason you have shut down the vulnerable part of yourself as a child, then as an adult you have no choice to confront these demons as they manifest themselves as triggers that play out in relationships with those closest to you.
Or at least that has been the case for me.
It wasn’t until, even the past few years, that I have come to know and understand my own self-worth and strength. How I have so many triggers, from events of the past that I rarely speak of. Not because I haven’t dealt with them, but because they don’t fit with the cover of my book. You can never judge a book by its cover and sometimes your cover starts to reflect what you tell yourself your pages are rather than what they actually are.
A couple of weeks ago a dear friend was staying with us. She was talking about some of her challenges in step-parenting and I mentioned that while I had not been a step-parent myself, I had had several step parents. Some good, some not-so-good. We proceeded to discuss my step fathers one an abusive alcoholic (now recovered), and the other a sexual and sadistic predator (maybe we will cover these another day, but today is not for them). My step moms were a bit better, with my first step-mom being more difficult (we get along fine now as adults) and my other 2 who were/are lovely but their effect was less striking as I was a bit older when they entered my life.
Her jaw was fixed in an open position. I have known her for 10 years and she is one of my best friends, and she had no idea.
And there it was again, the past lurking under the surface. Mostly fine, mostly dealt with, and then Jerry Sandusky entered the picture.
As I often say in business or personal discussions, the impact of something on you or a situation is often stored in your soul as the sum of the parts.
Last Saturday, KSP and I got into a somewhat lively discussion when I made an aggravated statement that I thought the focus and all the talk about the Penn State scandal was focused on the wrong thing…it should be less about the football program and more about the families.
My friend Deb, had written a post on her blog about this topic, as a survivor, which she ended with “Be the Village.” My trigger.
This is the part where those old haunting memories come to play. One of the things my therapist Dr. J said to me when I matter-of-factly told him of my history on our first meeting, was that I had not been validated as a child. I went home and cried, bawled and barely got out of bed for 4 days.
Please know that as I type this, I love my parents very much, we have talked a lot about the past, and we are peaceful. They were young people, doing the best they could to raise their children in the best way they knew how and doing a good job as my sisters and I are all well-adjusted adults. So this is not about them, it is about me now. Again, the whole is the sum of the parts, some good and some not-so-good.
When I was 12 years old my uncle shot himself. When I was six years old, he molested me. As he babysat us on a weekly basis while my parents and Aunt were working he would draw a bath and he would make me bathe with him; so, while I won’t go into detail, and there was never a “violent assault,” the effects are lingering. Certainly, like everything there is a spectrum of abuse, but here is where the validation comes in. Wherever I am on the spectrum didn’t and doesn’t make what happened to me or any of those boys that showered with Sandusky any less vulnerable to the lasting effects that come with abuse.
For 6 years, I didn’t say a word. For many of those years, I didn’t say a word because I had been told not to and I was a good girl and it didn’t seem as bad as some of the other things we had been a part of when I was growing up (a child’s relative perspective is very different than an adults). He made it all seem so normal, bath, fun, trips to Dairy Queen, what could be wrong with that? When I finally realized what “might” have happened, as everything had seemed so normal, until it didn’t, which really wasn’t until he died, I finally blurted out “I think Uncle X molested me.” We were in the car, having come back from his funeral. Silence. Noone was sure what to say, including me. So I said nothing and nothing happened, afterall he was dead and I “seemed” fine. I had officially stopped being vulnerable.
Throughout my life, the effects of this would play out in small ways. My dislike and discomfort with affection. My fear of being alone with older men. My heightened awareness at all time of what happens around me. My fear of a reoccurring image of a home intruder. These were my validation that something much larger had happened to me, we just didn’t know it.
After much therapy, I am mostly healed. But as KSP and I debated the argument about the focus on Paterno, the program and the University and their responsibility to take action and what “should” have happened vs. Paterno running a clean program being the focus, I started to cry. Not just cry, tears streamed down my face. Suddenly, I was a 6 year old, a 12 year old and a 37 year old all rolled into one. Feeling the emotions of those boys and their families as people questioned their stories and my own emotions about the validation that something had happened to me and been stolen from me. That I had missed out on hugs, and kisses, and romantic moments, because I was so fearful of someone going “too fast” or being uncomfortable even when my own parents hugged me.
Now, I give and receive affection freely. I hug and kiss and love without inhibition but this too makes you vulnerable, but as it says above, to accept vulnerability is to grow and to be alive is to be vulnerable.
Love and affection is the greatest gift we can give and receive to be vulnerable and allow it can make each day ‘anewfavoriteday.’ I thank you for reading this, as it is a deeply personal revelation for me and I have many dear friends who do not know this about me, but to be vulnerable is to be alive and I am alive and well and happy and joyful for all of the many blessings in my life. My babies, KSP, my family, my friends, Max, our roof, food to eat, a job, car to drive, therapists to help E, and of course all of you. Thank you for continuing to make me feel safe to be vulnerable which ultimately gives me validation that I know I shouldn’t need, but I have to be honest, gives me a sense of warmth for my 6, 12, and 37 year old self and makes today ‘mynewfavoriteday.’