It is possible, I have realised over just the last 24 hours, that VC was there all along, and it is I who have learned to let myself go and be held and helped instead. This dropping of my own weight from holding it all in and holding myself up, has been somewhat pivotal.
I accidentally encountered a term last week, in casual conversation, that perfectly describes this phenomenon: allowance.
To be in allowance — or the degree to which I am willing to permit myself, in this context — to receive this support. The allowance to feel fully, to allow my emotions to show, even if it means showing myself in a light different from the one I have been used to has been an unexpected plot twist.
One of the frightening realisations I have come to recently is how often I go through difficult times all by myself for no fault of anyone else’s but my own. All because I almost never allow what I am feeling to brim over and be seen. I rarely allow for help — whether it’s a listening ear or physical assistance or just an act of kindness, not random but in response to something I am feeling.
This is a script that has dictated much of my life. I’m seeing more and more how even though the circumstances and specific details of our lives may be different, this script has dictated much of my mothers life too. And similarly, my grandmothers too. A chat with amma the other day made me realise it probably goes beyond that too — my great grandmother was an outlier and a beacon of achievement and women’s liberation for her time. Her mother in law too, did some immensely formidable things. I realise I carry within me the spirit of what was once the definition of strength — to get through difficult times with a smiling face, to be put together and move on. It’s almost hardcoded in my DNA, much like the colour of my eyes, the tilt of my smile and the way in which my skin reacts to the air around me.
These are inherited stories, a collective culture of achievement, a legacy that I am compelled to step into and further. But the more grounded and secure I feel in getting to know myself, the more I feel ready to encounter and face the difficult emotions.
The more I listen to the voice within me wrapped beneath layers of this consciously learned and unconsciously inherited behaviour, the more I want to redefine what strength, achievement and happiness means to me. The more I want to open up to the authenticity of my emotions and consequently, the desire for help, the desire to no longer face life alone.
There are two threads to this. One, the capacity for admission and allowance for experiencing pain, grief, difficulty, sadness, rejection — the whole gamut of difficult feelings that I was almost afraid to allow myself to feel. Two, the consequent, chronic absence of people when I most need them. They’re separate, and yet connected. The truth, as I’ve come to painfully realise, is that all those difficult emotions are the flip-side of every experience of joy, love, happiness, togetherness and connection. They’re two sides of the same coin, following each other in a an infinite loop. It is impossible to separate the two, and so to live a life in constant negation or denial of the difficult is to make absolutely no space for emotions that are intrinsically 50% of me.
This script is another facet of the strong narrative. The deeply compelling belief that to feel difficult feelings is to be weak, that expressing them would amount to making a fuss, that making space for them would mean a life soaked in sadness, that asking for help would mean that I am somewhat incapable and an small. One thing leads to another and pretty soon it begins to feel like my entire life is a big fat lie. Because there’s no running away rom how often I do need help. How much I do need space to express myself. How much I do need to feel everything.
And so, the work then is to unpack the script. And very, very slowly rewrite it in a way that erases the notion that uncomfortable emotions will consume me if I face them. Because everything passes. Just like the sun needs to set and darkness must prevail, before a new dawn rises. Trees must get unabashedly naked for new life to sprout. The earth must be painfully parched to fully enjoy the gush of that first rain.
The work is in trashing the “suck it up” impulse that’s so quick to swoop in and call the shots. It is in, believe it or not, building a capacity not just for joy but also to invite deep sadness and the whole host of difficult feelings. To really see myself and my capacity to feel in a radically new light.
This requires strength. Just not the kind that comes from building an armour around myself, but from letting myself show. These past few weeks I’ve tasted that strength that comes from knowing that virtually no difficult emotion is so big it can overpower me. I’ve found security in my body and intuition that is beginning to tell when it is time to let my guard down, drop my weight and be seen. I’ve found safety in meeting grief and sadness and staring it right in the face, making absolutely no attempts to hide it.
I’ve held the words Vulnerability is strength really, really close to my heart for over two years now. But it is only now that I am slowly beginning to experience what it means. Vulnerability is in allowance. In seeing and being seen. And something tells me I’ve only just, barely, barely scratched the surface.