Daily Archives: December 2, 2013

30 Days of Brené Brown – Day 1: #vulnerability #courage #love #shame #belonging #holes #worthiness


Welcome to Day 1 of my new series, “30 Days of Brené Brown” wherein I will take the top 30 quotes as determined by Goodreads. Who is Brené Brown you ask? She is a research professor at the University of Houston, author of several books on emotional health and authenticity and all-around bad-ass when it comes to shame and vulnerability research. But more importantly, she is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person. Go here to learn more about her. In each post I will try to limit myself to 1,200 words.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
― Brené Brown

Hmm. Agh. Gah. Shit.

I have some really worn out track shoes that I’d spent a so-called adult lifetime in running, nay, sprinting from my story. Years ago I had a friend who was a career marathoner and triathlete who was also an attorney and a brash Texan. We were doing a charity walk for his wife’s chronic illness and I asked him why he didn’t run the event instead of walk it. He said that he wanted to spend the time with his sons and show them that “just walking for Mommy was helping her.” He then followed up with a side remark, “I’ve spent my life running as a marathoner. Since I was 14. I have recently come to the personal conclusion that in doing all those marathons I was either running to something or running from something.”

He had my interest. In my usual eloquence, I said, “More. More.” as I waved my hand impatiently for more information.

He resumed, “I don’t know which yet. I’d like to say I’m running to something, but that means that something isn’t right; if I say that I’m running from something, then I don’t rightly know where I’m going. I’m figuring it out. But my sense is, it’s my past… that I’m running … from.”

Owning my story. This flies in the face of my reminding myself that I am not my story. Embracing vulnerability is something I’ve spent a lot of time doing. Back when I first began therapy, in 1923, I remember Freud saying to me before he went back to Vienna for his vacation, “I wonder what it would be like for you to be soft and vulnerable.”

I nearly defibbed right there. Like Carol Burnett portraying Greta Garbo dying on a flight of stairs, I felt air get sucked from my body and I clenched my chest. Y’see, I’d spent a good part of my then-65 years as a hard-ass. My father used to call me a scrappy, barren city playground nickname that makes my blood boil. I won’t share it because it’s one that I lived up to and as far as I’m concerned, stripped me of most of my softer ways. He was proud when he said that nickname, and as an obedient, or more likely, survival-driven child, I would do my utmost to retain and build on it; so much so that it became almost like my ‘rep.’

So when Siggy asked me to consider it, being soft and vulnerable, I balked. I looked over my shoulders, around the room and suggested that clearly he must be talking to someone else. Surely it wasn’t me, at 65, who was causing my own problems, my own anxieties and my own patterns. No.

No. I had no problems. I was seeing Freud because it was my children who were the problems. For me to have allowed that I was in a weak position because of something that happened to me as a child meant that I would have to admit I was emotionally leaking which only came from weakness. And weakness meant that I needed help and that even the mere suggestion of my being needy and asking for help was not in the least shameful. No.

“Define soft and vulnerable,” I said as my eyelids quivered to stay closed and my jaw consciously loosened. I slowly let out the rest of my breath.

“You know: ask for help, be kinder to yourself. Say ‘no’ to someone’s request for assistance. Say ‘yes’ to someone’s offer of assistance. Better still: Allow things to happen without interfering and maybe be OK with not having all the answers. Let someone hug you for more than a couple seconds; say if you’re afraid of something. You know: be a human.”

I had a hard time with that. I said so, “It’s hard to be soft.” I wanted to kick him in his shins, shave his famous beard, stomp on his glasses. He gave me a month to try it. No therapy. I was just getting a handle on what my feelings were — I had only known of two until then: rage and confusion.

So yeah — owning my story is easier than running from it. My story is no better and no worse than anyone else’s. I have always been a candid person and I’ve always had an easy time relating to people and wanting them to feel safe telling me their stories. Some people are OK with it, others aren’t. I will also admit that there are some stories I just can’t hear anymore and I’m tired of telling my story — or at least the sad parts of it, but I am giving myself some slack right now because I’m still fairly unused to my mother being gone and so naturally lots of stuff is swimming around in me. I go from “I’m tired of telling my story.” to “I want the world to know my story!!!!” in the same breath. Sometimes I can’t believe where I’ve come from and then I hear someone else’s story and I feel pathetic — as though my story doesn’t count compared to another.

Then there’s the ‘running-from’ aspect: when the feelings of our stories, our hurts, disappointments, fears, regrets, shame, woe, confusion — true vulnerability — comes in play. It’s too hard to hold. That’s like the Prince of Tides moments for me — not so much that I endured and withstood and survived the things I did … that’s hard as it is; but the allowing that someone else could perpetrate the actions which led to those feelings of abandonment, woe, regret, ugliness, disposability, shame, fear, and hurt on me. What’s worse: allowing that it wasn’t personal. We want, even in those darkest moments for it to have been personal, at least just a smidge, so that the person who was hurting us was even aware that we were present, that we were being hurt; that it wasn’t just some case of blind rage or random fuck-up’edness that made that action possible.

That’s where another level of the ‘running from’ comes in for me: that I didn’t even matter then, during all that rage and sadness and narcissism. It’s hard to admit that pain; the double-edge of it (that a: it happened and b: you didn’t matter enough to make it stop), so I ran from it.

As a people, signs are omnipresent that we bury it deep inside us: Target stores everywhere, the abundance of stuff, Black Friday, today “Cyber Monday” (WTF?!) and all the shit in our homes, our lives… all the stuff! none of it matters!  we use it to build walls and hide ourselves with our perfect nails and fancy hair and super-white teeth all so we won’t at all let on that we’re insecure, that we’re scared inside, that we’re afraid of being judged. Or there’s the “everything’sjustfineitis!it’sgreat!sogreat!totally!” which also is a wall we build to hide our vulnerability and pain.

But in order to bury it, we have to use the hole that the pain created for it to fit. But it doesn’t always fit there, so we spew it at others in passive-aggressive ways or in straight-out aggressive-aggressive ways. We project our self-loathing on to others by withholding love or by judging them. I did that. For a long time. And now my mother, the one I withheld against for so long (simply as a matter to protect myself) is dead. I’m not saying I regret it — I absolutely had to draw boundaries (and I think that’s where Brené and I might disagree at times), I just wish it weren’t so.

So then we try to fill the hole of that pain with alcohol and shopping and food and drugs and running and work and facebook and gambling and porn and rage and shame and ____ and _____ and _____ which of course creates more pain (a bigger hole) for us to fill up with more shit which creates more pain for more shit.

When we own our stories, we confront them. We neutralize them — the stories don’t evaporate, but they are manageable. We can learn from them instead of filling them with shit. This life, the moment you’re living right now isn’t a dress rehearsal, we don’t really get a second chance. When our lives are over, they’re over. When it comes to “near-death” experiences, I’m not sure I buy it… we die when we are meant to die. So if it’s a year or 60 that we have left to live, it’s probably best to stop running so you can shake hands with your story, own your fears and rage and joys and grace. Sit down and enjoy life. Make lemonade, then drink it.

Thank you.

ps – My other 30 Days series was on Carl Jung. Click on this link for that index.

Thanksgiving Leftovers / Wrap-Up and What’s to Come: 30 Days of Brené Brown


Hello! I hope everyone in the U.S. enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday.

It has been a while since I’ve written anything regularly. The last series I wrote with any daily dedication was the 30 Days of Jung where I took a quote of his and did my lay-person best to make sense of it while sitting in my cheap seats. I had a great time with that series and considered myself developing somewhat of a niche: the self-effacing, occasionally humorous psychology nut.

I fancy myself a writer and I love to do what all great writers say to do in order to become a great writer: read great writers. I love reading other writers, I love writing about them, I love imagining how they decided to come up with that phrasing and how I feel so merely mortal when I read it.

Because my life radically changed on Labor Day when my mom died, I fell off the writing horse, so to speak, in terms of being my old self; partly because I felt my old self was gone. One of the ballasts of my old self had died. In short: I was exquisitely lost, but I knew I needed to write about it. So I did.

Then I started to feel self conscious, as though all I was writing about was grief, and Mom and me and grief. I didn’t want to be a downer. So I changed my tune, perhaps a little too early or perhaps even announcing that I was changing my tune was something I shouldn’t have done. (More about my penchant / need for intention / purpose soon.) I regretted it almost immediately: that I shared my decision to stop writing about my grief, but I also knew that I needed to shift gears. I didn’t want to ignore it but I also didn’t want to focus on it.

It was all so hard. Is so hard.

Which brings me to right now.

I loved the Jung series. I feel it prepared me for the yoga retreat which ultimately prepared me for Mom’s death (I’ve written about that dovetailing in a post called “Wahe Guru“). The Jung series was regular, predictable, something I could count on being there, so I find myself needing and wanting that anchor again. So now, I’m going to start 30 Days of Brené Brown, whom is a modern-day philosopher of sorts. She is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person.

As with Jung, I selected the quotes as ranked on Goodreads by readers whom I believe highlighted the quotes in the books on their ereaders which were then uploaded onto Goodreads because Amazon owns Goodreads and everything between Uranus and the Degobah system (apologies to George Lucas). Each per-quote write-up will be in the neighborhood of 1,200 words (don’t ask why 1,200; it seems to be the point at which I start to run out of gas and I think you do too). I am picking 30 Days because well, why not?

This is “Day 0” — where I’m letting you know. It’s almost 10:00 pm where I live so I don’t plan on writing via Brené tonight although I can’t wait to get started. I also don’t want to jump right into this without sharing a little about my Thanksgiving, as I’m guessing both of you are curious about how it went this first time without Mom. It went well. It was momentarily bittersweet and graciously easy. We seem, as a tribe, to be navigating these waters with relative steadiness and patience for one another.

My brothers and I all recognize that we all had different “versions” of Mom, just as how my sons will have different versions of me based on our chemistry and relationships (although my relative health and awareness is vastly different from Mom’s to my brothers and myself).

In the early stages of our grief it felt to me that we clung to our various versions of her as though they were buoys. I am the middle child and I’ve got four years between my brothers and myself, so even those four years create quite a crevasse in her own personal development, any major challenges notwithstanding. Everything I have read about birth order and timing of children suggests that a span of four years or more between the children creates a space where each child is virtually an only child in terms of parenting attitude, fatigue and sibling relations. That theory was both myth and truth in those first posthumous days. I’d never felt closer to my brothers in those first days while at the same time I felt very separate.

While I was fiercely drawn to them both, I was reluctant, to tolerate either of their versions of her. I accepted the notion that there could be different versions, but I didn’t want to debate them or hear about them. I felt it was essential that everyone see her as I saw her, which (especially in those first days) was completely as the flawed saint and alternately undefinable. As time wore on, and we shared with each other more, the different versions became as real as the differences in our own persons. Mom occupied the same body, but she was in different places with us energetically.

This Thanksgiving holiday was the first time we were all together again since Mom’s funeral. For me, it had an almost challenge-like vibe: “We Will Get Through This 2013” — I should have made t-shirts. I was girded for anything and that girding was unnecessary. Having an adorable drunken-sailor -esque toddler bounce about the house wielding my sons’ various light sabers and make his own sound effects on top of the ones the sabers already make was a definite spirit lifter.


For me, it was nice, especially to have everyone in my house. Even though we have the world’s smallest kitchen, I loved it. Coming from a place of mental preparation helped too because I was ready for the “break” from the confusing drama and the heavy emotions that so often accompanied major holidays in my family: for so many years, the attention and energy were sucked away by fear and confusion over Mom’s condition. This year, we could focus and  share and enjoy each other equally throughout the long weekend — that was a first and at times it was for me a little disorienting, but welcome nonetheless. We are all a little crazy, as both of my brothers have said to me and each other since Mom died. We have our quirks and unmet needs and we will always do our dances around each other; that’s natural — dysfunction or not — but there was no heaviness or fear.

As I pulled away from my brother and his team at the airport today, I caught a glimpse of my beautiful niece looking back at me in my car and we smiled and I waved hesitantly, I wasn’t sure she saw me so my hand went down as soon as it went up. A lump formed in my throat for her because I realized what was happening: they were going home and I already missed her, I missed them all.

In the final analysis: Mom gave us to each other as siblings and we figured it out somehow. The next thing we did was find impeccable mates, some of the strongest people in the world for our weirdnesses individually and collectively — they loved us enough to marry us, knowing where we came from. No one is perfect, but we’re good with that.

So the first Brené Brown entry will start tomorrow, December 2. I hope I will hear from some of you in the comments section. I often say that the comments areas to me are where some really great conversations can be had. It’s a real treat for me to be able to exchange ideas with you.

Thank you.