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What Vulnerable Feels Like

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There’s no graceful way to endure a skin exam. By definition, to exam the skin it must be… well, exposed. So, there I was in the exam room at my dermatologist’s office for my annual skin exam. The kind nurse left the room after instructing me to remove my clothes, sit on the chair and cover myself with the little sheet she left me. And by little I mean so thin I could have used it as a coffee filter. The chair she told me to wait in was also adorned with a veil of this single-ply paper.

A few minutes later the dermatologist knocked and opened the door. She had a gentle smile, and after introducing herself she told me she was going to lay the chair back and examine my front from head to toe. Then, at her instruction, I would roll over and she would examine my backside from head to toe. The moment she hit the button to recline the chair, I could feel the sweat beading up. Not just a few beads either. I suddenly felt like a thousand sprinklers had been turned on full blast. A few minutes went by and she told me to roll over. When I did, the piece of “protective” paper covering the chair was now plastered to my sweaty body in what looked like a million tiny pieces of toilet paper. I casually tried to rip off pieces while being completely mortified which, of course, was not helping the sweating problem. Keeping her certain horror and barely-controlled laughter under wraps, the kind doctor said, “Don’t worry about it! I know it’s hot outside.” Yeah, that’s what it was. The heat outside. Even though I had been parked in the frigid waiting room for an hour before going back to see the doctor.

My back looked like a molting chicken, and there was no longer anything between me and the plastic vinyl of the exam chair. Lovely. Somehow, my doctor managed to keep her composure and never once mentioned the little al fresco situation I had going on. She just asked me about running and told me she was also running the St. Jude and that I would have to look for her on race day. No offense to her, but I thought to myself, “If I spot you on race day, I’ll be running away as fast as my little legs will carry me.”

Being vulnerable feels a lot like being naked. The hardest blog I’ve written to date was When My Plan Fell Apart. After I hit publish, I immediately wanted to undo it. I wanted to reach into my computer and yank it back. Being vulnerable sometimes requires me to confront the parts I’m not proud of, the parts I want to hide, the parts that feel unlovable. Other times it touches a wound still tender and purple, forcing me to confront the pain, breathe deep and let healing oxygenate my soul. And still other times, it crumbles my wall, giving me permission to be honest, raw and unfinished like a snagged sweater with the yarn unraveling.

Being vulnerable has never been easy for me. I’ve expended much effort making it look like I have it all together, going after applause and titles and a glossy facade. In college, I pushed two of my closest friends away because I wasn’t willing to be vulnerable. I had worked hard creating an image of who I wanted to be, but they saw the real me. And instead of being honest and confronting it, I was defensive and pushed the blame on someone else. They knew true friendship didn’t work like that, and our relationship grew apart. I don’t regret many things in life because most of the time my mistakes have taught me infinitely more than my successes, but I regret my pride and the wall I built that cost me those friendships.

Vulnerability is painful, like being naked under fluorescent lights with pieces of single-ply paper stuck to your sweaty body. But the kind of friendships I crave aren’t polished and shiny. I want friends who see my home cobwebs, dust bunnies and all. I want friends who know me sans makeup and dirty hair stuck in a ponytail. Friends who know when you need to talk and when you just need time to process. Friends who know when to leave pastries on your doorstep just to say, “We’re here and we love you.” Friends who, when you ask, “Was I wrong?” say, “Yes, yes you were. Now, go make it right.”

I want a marriage where my husband can share his crazy dreams and where inside jokes create our own little language. Where “I’m sorry” isn’t a white flag but rather another strand in the yarn that weaves us together. Where I’m made more beautiful because I’m loved by someone who doesn’t just see what is but sees what could be.

I want the parenting relationship where my kids see me mess up and hear me say “I’m sorry.” Where they see me take risks and fail and be okay with that. Where they see grace and truth lived out, not perfectly, but courageously.

But in order to have those relationships, in order to be the type of friend, mom and wife I want to be, I must be vulnerable. I must open myself up and step out. I have to pick up the phone and whisper the words, “Hey, when you said this, I got my feelings hurt.” I have to go back in her room after losing my temper, hold her little hands and say, “I’m sorry for raising my voice. Will you forgive me?” I have to look my husband in the eye and believe him when he says he thinks I’m beautiful. These tiny moments, these are the moments where we feel naked, where the garish lights seem brightest and our flaws seem magnified, but these are the moments that define our relationships.

Yes, there is risk. The person could, in fact, run the other way. But there is more risk in not being vulnerable. For we might miss out on the greatest gift of all, to be fully known and fully loved.

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