“It is not the critic who counts; not the
man who points out how the strong man
stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could
have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually
in the arena, whose face is marred by dust
and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error
and shortcoming; but who does actually
strive to do the deeds; who knows great
enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends
himself in a worthy cause;
who at best knows in the end the triumph
of high achievement, and who at the worst, if
he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly....”
(source, Dr. Brene Brown)
In the last week my life jumped from one extreme to the next. I leaped from devastation right into joy and landed in the fluffy pile of hope. I felt scared and courageous and weak and strong, all at the same time.
A week ago, I sat in this exact same spot with lips tightly held together, a thermometer in my mouth, and a tissue in my hand, ready to wipe the wet tears from my trembling cheeks. Fear presided and consumed me and hope and gratitude rapidly fled. I assumed an impassable barrier formed and I was doomed, yet again. And I sat, bathed in fear, instead of turning inward and creating a protective barrier, I chose to put down my armor. I chose to reach out and admit the fear, share the worry, and attack the illness head on with exposure. This is new for me. Vulnerability is not really my strong suit, or was not really my strong suit. I try, every week, to open a new part, to release a new blockade, and to shine light on a dark and hidden spot, buried deep down inside.
For years, I mastered the flailing art of perfection. I honed the skill of pretend. I only showed what I wanted, and kept the rest rotting inside of me. As I enter a room, I am well aware how vulnerable I already appear, so I did everything I could to cover up this assumption of weakness. The right jeans, the cute boots, the smile, and even the sunglasses all said, hey I am one of you, I am perfect, I am not injured, I am not less than, see, don’t you see? And then I learned others’ perception of me wasn’t what mattered most. It wasn’t something I can control or perfect. What matters most, is my perception of me. The perception that is the truth. And while I tried to present a perfect picture, I also died a little bit each and every time. Along with the numbing of the fevers and the blocking of the vomit, I broke into tiny little pieces each and every time; so shattered, I couldn’t even put me back together again.
After quite some time, this war with my demons and my illness and my anger, finally surrendered and waved the white flag that said, I give up, here I am, please help me. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed for change. I asked for strength. And this miracle didn't arrive in a box with a neatly tied ribbon. The miracle showed up in a pile of broken pieces with cracked and jagged edges. Bit by bit, the pieces were reinforced and made stronger. The over all picture, while filled with many cracks and chips and glued edges, started to fill in and become complete for the very first time. Not complete because it was back together again, but because it was a beautiful mess. This is vulnerability. The ability to allow the cracks to show and know and trust the final imagine is not a mess of imperfect, broken pieces, but a masterpiece of imperfection. And as much as I think I grow and change and evolve, this lesson is learned over and over and over again. Begging me to trust it, begging me to know it is the right avenue, and urging me to keep gluing the pieces and not finding shame in their brokenness.
Entering the arena, is a willingness to enter crashed and burned. It is the decision to show up, as I am, and offer only what I can at the moment. And when I walk through the doors and see the stands filled with people and hear the cheers, I know they aren’t because I am flawless, it is because I am full of flaws. And I may not run the perfect race around the track every time. Heck, I may not even make it around once. I fall, I hit a wall, and I even turn around and run back to the starting line. But, I entered the arena a while ago when I decided to show up for myself and stop pretending I wasn’t full of hurt or full of pain or full of anger or full of damage. I am here to stay.
I still struggle with perfection. I decide I beat an illness, a blood infection no less, and I should be fine. I decide I am over my issues, my shame, my anger, and am ready to complete the race, run all the way around the track, without a fall. But this isn’t possible. I will always hit a rock or turn around, full of fear. The finish line isn’t the goal, heck, it isn’t even a wee bit important. What is important, is how I recover, it’s the courage I show as I wear the bandages and run forward. And I discover, along the way, it isn’t the shame that holds me back, it is the unwillingness to admit the shame, admit the falls, admit the hurt, and grasp the helping hand. Because when I do, the light shines so brightly, the darkness doesn’t even stand a chance.
And when I open the floodgates, when I allow the hurt and pain to run freely, the waters join with other waters of hope and joy and gratitude and sharing. Everyone shares a bit of a fall or stumble. Everyone has a bruised knee or broken heart. When we allow ourselves to open these wounds and share their blood and their torn tissue, we allow others’ to reveal their scars, their chipped bones, and fractured souls. The revelations don’t make us weaker, they make us real. They make us whole and broken and scared and courageous, all at the same time.
I opened my pain, right at its gut, and poured it out to you. I shared my fear. And instead of judgement, I received love and hope and prayers and thoughts of wellness and health. I felt lifted and risen in a way I’ve never felt before. The strength and endurance to face the challenges head on was renewed and re birthed. I attacked the infection on head, faced the darkness and looked it straight in the eye and it is losing its battle. And I was scared, so scared, but also never so sure I was up to the task. I discovered the source of the nausea, some pain from a new treatment and a bit of memory association with a smell of the machine involved in this new treatment. I worked diligently to follow every order from the doctor, even when I didn’t want to and hated the moments of feeling trapped, yet again. I did all of this because I knew it was okay to be angry and scared. I knew it was okay because I had people, all of you, fighting for me, picking me up when I just didn’t think I could do it anymore. And while not everyone has a kind and generous group of blog readers and fighters, we all have one person, one hand to hold. Not too long ago, I felt alone and full of shame and afraid to take a hand. If we just let go of the shame and be willing to take the hand, even while filled with fear and doubt, we can do it, we can keep on running and know if we fall, we will get right back up and run forward. Because this is what we do if we enter the arena, we just keep running and falling and recovering.
I cannot express the gratitude I feel for all of your prayers and thoughts and positive vibes. I can only tell you, I took your hands and with your help, pulled myself back up again. How lovely it felt to not be alone and have just so many hands to hold. Your generosity of spirit and kindness of heart have not gone unnoticed. I am forever grateful.