Today was awkward. I found myself standing in a room full of people who were all looking at me while I was staring down the barrel of an embarrassing situation, and I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. In fact, I had to stand there and allow it to happen. I wish I could describe the mass of feelings that washed over me in three short seconds. It was not unlike the time I hit a deer with my car: the sickening drop in my gut, the feeling that things were happening in slow-motion, the knowledge that things might end horrifically, the deep need to fix everything somehow, and above it all, utter helplessness.
I’m not a girl who’s used to feeling helpless. I have flaws, and they are many, but I’m a resourceful kind of girl. I’m good on my feet, quick to adapt, and generally able to turn most situations around in a way that makes things work. But lately, I find myself in awkward situations like this every few days. It’s not that my abilities have escaped me; I still know how to make the best of things. It’s more that, for once, my abilities aren’t really of much use in my environment. Of late, It’s more useful for to me to stay silent, to allow the situation to wash over me with as much grace as I can, and wait to see how everyone else reacts. So far, it’s worked: “everyone” has been so kind, and not a soul has said a word about anything that might make me feel uncomfortable. I’ve been in awe of this small miracle. Whether it’s true ignorance, or a blind eye, I am deeply grateful.
And yet, I still feel distress every time I’m put in one of these situations. The thing I struggle with most on earth–my greatest fear–is feeling vulnerable, and the idea that people might see me in a weak moment is so difficult for me to deal with. Every time it happens, I feel chafed–rubbed a little more raw–by the thought of being so emotionally exposed, and I immediately brace myself against showing any weakness. It’s an attempt, I suppose, to try and be a little stronger.
I was thinking more about this today, and the idea of chafing. Anyone who runs knows how terribly painful chafing can be. It can cause even the most seasoned runner to have to take a break and heal, rather than risk further damage to such tender skin. Areas that are prone to chafe will really only improve if they’re properly protected, or if the skin builds up a tolerance to it–gets stronger, so to speak. As I thought about emotional chafing, it seemed like the logical answer to my distress would be to either
- protect myself from ever experiencing any emotional distress (haha someone tell me how?!), or
- try and build up some kind of tolerance to embarrassment.
That second one doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, until you understand that I’m the kind of person who is already prone to shoving down all emotions in order to “be strong” and then they all just stay under the surface for literal years until I feel like I can’t control all the things anymore. I’m at least self-aware enough to know that that option’s no good for me, either. Almost as immediately as I lighted on the idea, it felt wrong.
But something else occurred to me: I have felt the deepest peace and sweetest acceptance in the moments when I have allowed myself to be the most vulnerable. As difficult as it is for me to allow these awkward, embarrassing moments wash over me and not “handle” them, I have found a brave new freedom in the moments of letting go. I’ve discovered a profound sense of reward in the kind of love that comes from a friend who has witnessed me at my most vulnerable, and still loves me and laughs with me in exactly the same way as before.
There is freedom in vulnerability. I am learning that believing I had control over a situation meant that I was affecting all parts of the outcome, whether I realized it or not. I always felt that I knew certain things, but it wasn’t until I let go of the reins that I discovered how things would truly behave.
Sometimes it’s not until you learn to just let things be that you see things as they really are.
I’m definitely not great at it, yet, but I know I’m going to try and be OK with being a little more quiet. A little more graceful under fire. A little less in control. A little more vulnerable.