Like most of the lessons I’ve learned over the last 5 years, I’d prefer for this one not to be true. Connection may be as fundamental to our well-being as clean air, healthy food, and adequate water, but there's nothing I’d rather do when I'm feeling vulnerable and emotionally compromised than withdraw.
I have a vast amount of experience with this behavior. My preference to hide both physically and emotionally began early and continues to this day. I imagine my reasoning back then was the same as now: It’s safer. Well, it feels safer, anyway.
Tucked away in my little girl room, I was free to imagine my life as a series of adventures that starred me, a me that never made mistakes or risked disappointing other people. In the real world, mistakes were messy. They still are. A lack of knowing how to “person” with nuance has consequences, almost all of which involve hurt feelings. Out of sight in my grown up house, I can avoid the mess and necessary cleanup altogether.
For ages, I convinced myself that I wasn’t lonely moving through the world in such a solitary way. And often my distancing behavior was unconscious. People entered my life and left it. When the circumstances around those departures were suboptimal, I pointed the finger. I grew up, got married, and had a beautiful child. I found ways to protect myself from dangers real and imagined. I prided myself on neither needing help nor asking for it. I was self-sufficient and that’s exactly how I liked it. Then my girl got sick and the connection I had had with the most important person in my life was jeopardized. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to help her, including letting myself be seen.
After the pie chart debacle (read here) my first foray in a new educational direction included reading Brené’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection. By the end of Chapter One, she’d debunked much of what I’d thought I understood about being a person, like the value of going it alone and the anathema of vulnerability. Then, right there on page 19 was this definition of connection and explanation of its importance. Without connection there’s no sense of belonging, no inclusiveness of community, no tether to those we love.
The tenderness I felt during this time terrified me, as did admitting how badly I needed help. But I did it because my daughter’s health was worth the discomfort. As, I would discover, was mine. One small step at a time I reached out, and hoped my effort to heal would encourage hers. Through trial and error, I learned I was not alone and there were people—so many people—scared just like me. I learned that hiding can be an answer, but it isn’t a solution.
Though I may still prefer during hard times to eschew the judgments and misunderstandings that can sometimes attend connection, the point of my self-care journey is to thrive, and we thrive in relationship with others. Others who "get" us or at least who try. Care to pack a bag and join me for a ride?