I remember the first time I shared. We sat around a table, at a program I was leading about mental health illnesses, and somehow the conversation kept coming back to me, and for the first time I realized that I could share. I realized that no one else was willing to, or knew how to, but I did. It wasn't because I had experience in sharing, but because at the time nothing mattered more than to get the words out onto that table, and bear heart for the very first time. So on a Friday night, I bared my heart and soul for the first time.
My story is not a simple one, with moves spanning continents, and disorders spanning decades, my story branches out in a vast array of life. No hour long session can hold it all. But I sat there that day and told my truth. I answered questions that I didn't yet know the answers to, and for the first time, ever, I felt a little lighter afterwards, as if I could finally breathe.
Yesterday I was asked after one of my talks if I had any advice about being vulnerable. Rock bottom is not a great place to be, because unlike what most assume it's not solid ground that you crash into it's an abyss that is infinite in depth. But there is something to be said about rock bottom. When you have nothing left, there's no longer anything to lose.
The first time I shared I was in that abyss, and desperation had become all that I knew and I just needed one person to hear me out that wasn't my therapist and understood the cultural baggage associated with my life. It was unscripted, as raw as can be, and it was vulnerability stemming out of desperation. But even then, despite having nothing to lose, I did not share everything. I did not share the parts that were still with me in the abyss. I shared the parts of me that I had securely brought to safety before going back in to remove the rest. I was vulnerable, but vulnerability stems from a place deep within us that yearns for connection, it's us showing up and risking losing something by doing so. I yearned for that connection, I showed up, but showing up does not require us to lay down all that we are so that we are seen. We can show up in a multitude of ways, from a smile or a word, to autobiographies and memoirs sharing everything that we are.
We are not taught to be vulnerable, in fact we are taught the opposite. We are taught that strength is birthed when we numb ourselves and keep the soft parts of our soul hidden. We get bragging rights for never having high expectations, and never putting ourselves in places where we might be hurt, as if connection is the same as a dark alley frequented by murderers. But vulnerability and connectivity, like many other things, are a practice. They are not things that you can just do 100% from the very beginning normally. If I had to judge my vulnerability level that first day it'd probably be around 5%, despite others believing that it was much higher than that.
The next fall I shared for the first time in a more controlled and planned matter, I'd say that was also 5%, despite sharing even more, but I had a bit less to lose with this new audience. I've lost count of the times I have shared, but over the last 3 years, since the first time I have shared I have gone from that 5% to being able to be vulnerable a good 80-90% with a few key individuals and 50% with large audiences. I have shared the deepest parts of my soul, but not necessarily the most intimate. When you share pain it's sometimes different than sharing intimate everyday details of your lives. From my experience most people accept pain and suffering. We're a highly competitive society and we compare ourselves to everything we've done and gone through. Society views different expressions of pain and experiences as more severe than others, despite the contrasting reality that tells us that pain is pain regardless of its form and we can suffer from the smallest of things.
Some of those things are still the hardest to share, but they are difficult to share not because vulnerability is difficult, but because they are still in the abyss surrounded by shame. I have shared those things though, at different times when I have felt safe, and wanted to challenge my own vulnerability. But there are things, small things, that are even more difficult to talk about.
Vulnerability is a practice, your challenge should you choose to accept it is to practice, to find the things that you're willing to share today, and work your way to sharing the things you never thought you could. It might be as easy as finding the right people to share with, or it might take years for you to get to that point.
I am finally at a point, after three years where I am ready to step past the shame, seeing it for what it is and showing up entirely as I am. I am done fitting in, I am done being a % of who I am. I am me. I am these moments that make up my life and everything that I am. The world not accepting me or you does not change the fact that we are who we are.
hmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter, instagram or facebook.