Vulnerability comes with great risks, and yet, I'm learning that the ways we live without it can cause even more damage. I believe that the swing we're seeing away from the "I'm just fine, thank you, and I can do this myself" mindset to the longing for authenticity and community comes from the pain of wearing masks for too long. It's hard keeping up an image and pretending things are okay when we feel broken inside. It's difficult managing appearances, controlling our situations, environment, and those around us so that we can have the semblance of perfection that we crave. We can work so hard to keep it together and just feel empty inside.
I started this blog as a way to be vulnerable, to force myself to peel back the facade a little and come to terms with a life, that while beautiful and full of blessings, does not always match the picture I have in my head. I spend far too much time bemoaning how my children won't listen and too much energy trying to force everyone into submission. I grew up in a very loving but unstable household, and I developed controlling tendencies as a way to compensate. I want to be the perfect mother and wife, and I have unrealistic expectations of what that means. When I inevitably fail, I feel guilty and am convinced I will always be a failure. I have a hard time expressing what I need, and then grumble when I don't get my unspoken wants. It's been an exhausting way to live (for me, and my family, too, I'm sure). I'm slowly learning, though, that through the power of sharing how I feel, I'm more likely to get what I need. Others are accepting of the "real" me as it frees them to be authentic as well. They are not looking for perfection in me, and they are relieved to know I'm not expecting it from them either.
This retreat weekend came about when I told my husband I wanted to attend, and that I wanted a night in a hotel to relax and process the experience. He was happy to oblige as he is always encouraging me to take better care of myself (and stepping in to rescue me when I don't). I'm still working on not feeling guilty as I know the time away makes me a happier mom and wife, and I'm even excited to return home and spend a few solo days with the kids as John leaves to go hunting, and then we enjoy the chaos of the holidays together with our extended families. "At the Barn" was a lovely time of listening and connecting. Many shared dreams from their heart, and shared their honest struggle through tears. Others offered encouragement through their on journey of having been there before. As an introvert, I sat and took it all in.
As I listened and appreciated the openeness, I realized that it is often missing in the larger world. While we live in a culture of oversharing (instagramming every meal, tweeting every thought), there is a fine line between authentic vulnerability and a plea for attention. The former leads to empathy and intimacy (I feel with you, "me too"), while the latter screams "see me". Do we reach out in connection and community, or as a way to market and promote ourselves? I have struggled with that line due to my engagement with social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, blog). Am I sharing to join in with others or to create and maintain an image? Will my "friends" feel encouraged or overshadowed? As it's more difficult to generate true community these days, it's also harder to know how to reach out without oversharing and without being pushy or disingenuous.
It was a message for me to ponder, seeking how I share myself. Am I sharing who I really am or crafting an image or brand? What is my art and how will I offer it to others? It forced me to confront the demon of comparison that often blocks me from sharing my art. It's easy to give up and think that I will never be there, and maybe that's okay. For now, I'm grateful for the time to explore these questions and tend to the seeds of dreams planted within me, and nurturing those who share the garden with me.