Vulnerability Unearths Strength

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With a birthday that’s so close behind New Year’s, it’s hard for me to find a reflection point. I’ve already made a list of what I want for this year. I’ve already reflected on the past year. So, I searched for ways to celebrate your birthday on the worldwide web. That’s where all the answers are, right?

My search came up with all of the typical reactions to getting older. I care less about what people think. I sever or speak up in relationships that aren’t helpful. I am less attached to consumerism and “rules”. All of this stuff is true, but I don’t really want to focus on that. I wanted something more positive to focus on. I came up with this blog:

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A friend of mine recently pronounced on an online dating site that she was grateful for her sobriety and wanted someone that would celebrate that. After all, sobriety is hard work and a sign that a person would go to any lengths to make sure they are the best person they can be. That’s a positive, right? Pretty immediately she freaked out that she put that up there and took it down. But in the few minutes it was up, a guy – interested because of that confidence in herself – contacted her, and they have started dating. She doesn’t even remember what it said because she took it down so fast.

Ironically, in our culture, recovery from addiction is a stigma. Most of us have very little control over the hand we are dealt in life. Genetics define who is susceptible to addiction, our skin color, our  mental health, and our looks. People are constantly judged by all of these – as if they had any control over any of it. Many other issues are a result of our upbringing, where we grew up and the life lessons that fell in our path. Our path is not in our control, but our reaction to it is. But we are often judged by the obstacles that were put in our way – addictions, mental illness, poverty, attachment disorders – and not the way we have overcome it.

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I know this seems to have nothing to do with the gratitude blog that I read, but I am most grateful for my quality of being intolerant of emotional pain. Sure, it led me directly into numbing through early addiction, but it also led me out. When something is painful for me, I don’t tolerate it very long. And, luckily for me, I live in a world with plenty of resources.

Even in my twenties when I realized drinking was an issue for me, I picked up the phone and asked for help. This “shortcoming” of mine of being intolerable of emotional pain has helped me avoid lots of danger and to become a stronger person with resilience in the face of adversity. The simple act of asking for help has opened me up to communities of people who are strong and brave and vulnerable. I have no idea what my life would be like if I would have chosen numbness over connection with others, but I really don’t want to find out.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a country friend of mine when I moved home. This big, tough redneck guy told me, “When the going gets tough, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket in this country, I want you on my team. You are a survivor.” I can’t be grateful for that capacity without being grateful for the hardships and tendencies that unearthed the need. As always in God’s world, it is vulnerability that ultimately strengthens us.

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