Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Escape from Wallow-Land

My name is Ellie, and I am vulnerable.

I've been thinking a lot about vulnerability, and how it gets a bad rap.   In our society we're programmed to admire achievement, determination, drive.  We like to believe we're impenetrable.   At least I did, for a long time.

It takes a lot of guts to admit you're vulnerable, that you have weaknesses, soft spots, chinks in your armor.  

It takes even more guts to ask for help.

Think about it - when was the last time you asked for help?   Especially with big fears and insecurities that you can barely admit to yourself, let alone to someone else.

I think women, in particular, internalize suffering.   When we're feeling inadequate we eat, we drink, we starve, we run faster, we work harder, we buy more.   We stuff.    We pour our energy into keeping up appearances - arranging our emotions like movie props - fearful that if we don't look the part, act the part, that we'll fall away from the pack.

When hit with hardship - loss, divorce, addiction, depression, anxiety - we tend to burrow inward, searching for answers from our own depths:  What am I doing wrong?   Why does it look so easy for her?   Why can't I stop eating/drinking/shopping/starving?  Why am I so sad/bored/lonely/angry?   All too often, the most important mission becomes making sure nobody knows how badly we're feeling inside.  

For years I spent so much mental energy mulling over my inadequacies, wallowing in my shortcomings, it was mind-blowing.    It was just so comfortable there, in wallow-land.   I was used to this version of me-as-not-measuring-up.     Like a ratty old pair of sweatpants that I couldn't bring myself to throw away because they felt like an extension of me, I shuffled around in my shortcomings wondering how it is that everyone else seemed so, well, happy

When I hit rock bottom all my movie props came crashing down, and the dark underpinnings of my world were exposed for all to see.

I could no longer pretend that the outside version of me matched the inside version of me; my fall was spectacular.   People couldn't pretend to look away any more than I could pretend that I had it all together.

I braced myself for my worst fears to come true:  now that people know the truth, that I'm weak, I'm scared, I'm lost, that all the put-togetherness I've been projecting is one giant ruse, they will all go away. 

That didn't happen.   Not even close.   I wasn't mocked, or shunned, or ridiculed.   The opposite, in fact - because my vulnerabilities were so visible, so obvious, so out there - people felt more comfortable letting me inside, sharing some of their private fears.  

People in all areas of my life, not just in my recovery circle, started opening up more, letting down their guard just a bit.   Not because I had all the answers, but because I didn't, and I could no longer pretend differently.   I no longer wanted to pretend differently.  

By asking for help I learned I wasn't the only mother who felt trapped, inadequate, disorganized, exhausted and scared out of her mind much of the time.  I surrounded myself with other mothers who fought back the fear, doubt and insecurity with laughter, a sympathetic ear, and the ability to give loving advice without judging.

By asking for help I discovered a network of people who had been through the darkness of addiction, come out the other side, and who could shine a light on the path for me, too.   

I still relapse with this stuff all the time.  I'll start feeling inadequate, insecure, and the wallowing and self-selecting out of the club will begin:    I don't know what I'm doing with the blog, the jewelry business, the writing.  This person or that person does it better than I ever could.  I can't, I won't, blah blah blah.  I'll tunnel inward, deeper into my fears, and wonder why I'm so miserable.   Eventually shouldering the pain alone becomes too great, and I'll think:  oh yeah, ask for help.

If I see someone who seems to have it together, who is achieving things that I have only dreamed about, I try not to view them as superior, or a threat, or competition -- that's just the ratty old sweatpants talking. 

I can ask them for help.   I used to feel it made me weak, less-than, to admit there are things I can't do well, things I don't know.  Because I used to think vulnerability was a dirty word.

Now I know it takes true courage to be vulnerable.  

Vulnerability, like shame, can be a great teacher.   

We can't heal what we can't face.


  1. WOW. Thanks Ellie, I needed this.

  2. Your last line really resonates with me: we can't heal what we can't face. So true. And so much energy we put into not facing those things...

  3. You just explained my life. I am buried so deep in my own insecurities that I feel paralyzed. I am so caught up in how bad I feel and can't stop beating myself up for not pulling myself together and creating my own happiness. I know how I want to be but that person seems so out of reach. The depressed me is so much stronger than the "me" I put out into the world when I have to. I'm so tired of losing this battle.

  4. Anonymous 9:13am - you're not alone, even if you feel like you are. Find someone safe - a trusted friend, a family member, a therapist, a spiritual advisor -- heck, even a chat group on the internet -- and start talking. Open up, ask for help. You will be amazed.


  5. Thank you AGAIN Ellie. This blog is better than therapy.

    And Anon, you ARE NOT ALONE! I have been there. Recently in fact. Ellie is right. Call for help. SCREAM for it. It's out there. More than you could imagine.

  6. Thanks once again Ellie - I always feel inspired when I come to your blog. You're doing some amazing work here, no matter what the sweatpants say.

  7. I love this post. And your comment about internalizing suffering turned a lightbulb on for me. I don't comment much, but I love reading your writing here. Thank you.

  8. Wonderful, wonderful post. I've been feeling like this lately.

  9. Yup, what you said! :)
    I've worn those ratty old sweatpants A LOT over the course of the past few years. I realized a while back that I needed to be vulnerable and be okay with it...but it took a long, long time to learn how. I still struggle but I am aware of how I can trap myself with that line of thinking that you talk about.
    Here I am, set to run in my first 5K tomorrow. I am beyond excited but when I start thinking of all of the other people that will be there, the more accomplished, "serious" runners, I think "WTH am I doing?!" And I remember that I have a partner and a team and it's totally okay to need them.

    Well done, Ellie. :)

  10. I can also really relate to this - it can feel so hard to open up and share my fears, failings and weaknesses. To ask for help, simply because I need it, rather than because I've analyzed the crap out of it to prove it's okay. The vulnerability is such a challenge for me. Thank you for reminding me how essential it is.

  11. Ellie-I hope you always write this blog. I find comfort in your words. :)

  12. I don't have words for this right now...but I read it, and I get it, and I'm living through it.

    Working on facing things. It is worth it, but it isn't always easy!

  13. I think it's what the Lord calls "humility". A difficult lesson for me to learn as well.