Some weeks ago, N and I were talking about how emotionally spent we’ve been feeling all the damn time these past few months. And she said to me “If there was a season for feeling feelings, this is it”.
I couldn’t agree more. Unexpectedly finding moments of tenderness when I’m not trying to be put together, or keeping my frailty at bay, choosing “strength” and productivity over all else, has been a whole new world for me. Because it has opened me up and allowed an onslaught of every single emotion possible. Not fighting, figuring out or trying to overcome any of them has meant I have felt everything very deeply, as might be obvious to those of you who read this blog.
I grew up having a lot of role models for “strong” women. And I put the word in quotes because while they were all impossibly strong and showed me what grit, determination and a sense of ambition outside of themselves can do, as I’m growing, I understand what that strength has cost them. The loss of tenderness.
As an adult, I realise I know little about being tender or soft. I have held such strong, unidimensional ideas of strength (and therefore weakness too). I see how easily I used to equate vulnerability and tenderness with weakness, because I was so focused on keeping it and myself together, through everything.
Lately, I’ve realised “weak” is a word I no longer like to use. I don’t see weakness anymore, just different colours and kinds of strength. This is especially apparent as I’m having to learn vulnerability. It’s been a hard and painful journey of unlearning that definition of strength. Looking back, I wish the women I looked up to as a child has also modelled strength in tenderness. So I could have seen the power of vulnerabilities and letting them be seen.
I have known and believed for years that Vulnerability is Strength, and maybe I even practiced it a little. But it wasn’t until very recently that I have embodied the very idea of it in a wholehearted way that has broken me apart. Because it has let me shatter the various personas I hold, in order to be seen as a certain kind of person. Sorted, sometimes. Loving, caring, available sometimes. Unaffected, strong, most of the times.
I have been on this quest for years — waiting for a moment where suddenly I’d just be able to feel all the feelings. Little did I know it’s it takes time and practice. That it isn’t an achievement that I’ll gain, like arriving in a point in time. Rather a gradual process, like standing at the edge of the vast expanse of an ocean and allowing the sea to gently lap over me. Toes first, feet next, making me heave and gasp with overwhelm. But soon enough, it gets easier, familiar, fun even. The sea that seemed threatening is suddenly inviting. Joyful. And before I know it the waves have washed over me. Drenched. Heavy. And strangely — buoyed, uplifted, held, strong.
These past few months, I have felt the depths of sadness, agitation, helplessness, anger, grief, heartbreaking rejection and terrible loneliness with an intimacy I haven’t allowed myself before. I believe allowing myself tenderness had something to do with it. And somehow through that tenderness, I found a kind of strength I haven’t ever felt before. A strength, from vulnerability, that I haven’t allowed myself either. It has taken everything out of me to begin to show myself, in these vulnerable states. To say, I don’t feel well. I miss you. I am hurt by what you said/did. I don’t want to have it together today. I wanted you and you weren’t there for me. I shrink when you say that, and I don’t like shrinking. Please don’t say that to me again? I’m really, really lonely. amongst so many other things.
And so many weeks and months down, it is slowly manifesting in a bodily awareness of being fully (differently, somehow) in my skin and deeply aware of my changing world.
This is a note to myself, but maybe you need to hear it too today? Your tenderness is valuable. Your tenderness is the path to strength. Your tenderness can set you free.
One year ago: Tender
Two years ago: You live, you learn
Four years ago: I don’t feel sorry about posting pictures of my life