I’ve never heard anyone say ‘the film was better than the book’. I think it’s because shiny Hollywood stars can struggle to convey the messiness inside a character brought to life within the words on a page.
For years I’ve tried to live the film adaptation of my life, you know, the one like your Facebook page; with witty comments, good news and details of an exciting social life accompanied by attractive photos. But I’ve started to change how I live. I’ve stopped trying to pretend. I’ve grown tired of only offering the film version of my life and have decided to share the book instead. Hiding pain is tiring and the more you try to disguise what’s really happening, the more isolating it can become. Being honest is scary, and not very British. But I believe vulnerability is a gift that can set you free and open up many more possibilities than the silent alternative.
Being vulnerable means fighting every self-preserving instinct within me; and even my first draft of this post was heavily airbrushed. So here I am being honest, really, truly honest.
Recently I’ve learnt a lot about shame and the role it can play in our lives (not as depressing as it sounds). Shame is actually what stops us from being honest and living a vulnerable life. From this I’ve realised that I’m ashamed that I don’t have children. The essence of what it means to be a woman is to be a mother and it is a role I cannot fulfil because my body won’t let me. Shame is described as a painful experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging, stopping us from connecting with others. For me the fact that I am in my thirties and am still childless is something I am ashamed of and it creates a barrier stopping me from connecting with those around me– especially women my age who have children. It is painful, because for me they are fulfilling a role that I am unable to carry out and it makes me feel inadequate. Shame is isolating, we think we’re the only ones feeling this way, it also feeds on silence making it even harder to break free from.
So I’ve discovered the only way to combat shame is vulnerability; honesty about who we are and what’s really going on in our lives. After my third miscarriage I started to realise I couldn’t hold this fake life together anymore. I’d never spoken to anyone about miscarriage and so when it happened to me I believed it was something that should remain unspoken. As the losses increased, the number of pregnant friends increased, as did the shame and isolation, and I started to withdraw from friendships that made me feel worse.
I found treasure when I started to be vulnerable.
Over the past five years I’ve lived in two cities, and in both I’ve had great friends; women who I met with, ate a lot of food with and was honest with, they taught me to open up and talk about how I was really feeling; they helped me to be vulnerable. Empathy is the balm that soothes and shrinks the shame we feel, but in order to receive empathy we must be vulnerable. The empathy shown by these women transformed me, not because their experiences were the same, but because they listened, gave me space to be vulnerable and spoke those life-giving words; ‘you are not alone’. Sharing my experience of loss and heartbreak has helped me to become more resilient to the shame I’ve felt, enabling me to become a more vulnerable and honest person and I now realise that the shame related to motherhood is something most woman experience. I see the pressure of comparison and judgement felt by friends who are mothers and all I want to say is you’re amazing, and probably the best gift you can give your child is the acknowledgement that you’ll never be a perfect mother.
I avoided vulnerability because I wanted to fit in and be accepted, but being vulnerable has actually enabled me to better connect with people, for it is our story that unites us as humans. Donald Miller describes vulnerability as applying patches of Velcro to your soul. I’ve found that being open with others has transformed and deepened my relationships and generated new ones; by being brave and reading from the pages of your story you enable others to do the same. This mutual sharing of stories, of someone opening up the book of their ‘real’ life – the unedited version – is a beautiful way of connecting.
When I was pregnant with our sixth child, many friends shared Psalm 139. In it the psalmist talks about how God sees every part of our lives and knows us intimately from when we rise to when we sleep. In this psalm God did not speak directly about our baby, but He spoke to me. He knows my story, even the bits I would never tell anyone and I need to stop pretending. God knows me, my thoughts, my secret pain, my shame, and my joy, nothing is hidden from Him and despite knowing those things He still accepts me and loves me. I believe He wants me to be free. Free to let go of who I think I should be and the things I think I should be doing so that I can be the person I truly am right now and live the life that I have.
I do not want shame to separate me from God or my friends. Knowing I am not alone, has given me the confidence to be vulnerable and I am learning to become more shame resilient. This is why I am sharing, not for attention, but to empathise with those who struggle in silence. You are not alone. Be comforted. Your story isn’t hidden, embrace it and share it, you know the real one, the one that’s better than the film.
Thank you for this. I felt (and can still sometimes feel) humiliated by my childlessness. I hung on believing that eventual success would make all the pain worthwhile. But no little bundle arrived to make sense of it all. My tough ‘you’ll see’ eventually rang hollow..pathetic even. I felt stupid and ashamed. And that’s hard to say, so thanks for saying it first! Like for you, that eventual sense of connection with others through pain proved just enough to make it possible to keep going, though it’s been touch and go at times. I wondered why I felt ‘un-womaned’ by the experience when I’ve never knowingly equated womanhood with motherhood. However in our culture that fetishizes motherhood I guess I had to learn the truth I already knew at a deeper-than-intellectual level. Thanks for writing the blog, Lizzie, it does comfort me.
Wendy, thank you so much for your comments and your honesty. I do think its a long path to adjust to a different version of who we are when life doesn’t turn out as we’d hoped. I think for a long time I tried to deny that fact that part of my struggle was simply because I’m a woman I’m now trying to come to terms with the fact that part of the pain associated with not being able to have children is connected with a really natural part of what makes me a woman and that this reaction does not mean I am weak. Thank you so much for your support and encouragement, your words are so wise and such a source of inspiration to me. Sending you lots of love xxxxxx
You are an amazing woman, thank you Lizzie. I only knew you very briefly but you certainly made a big impression on me. Write that book, there are people who need to read it.
Thank you so much Lesley-Ann you know you’re a pretty awesome lady yourself! Not sure if I’ve got a book in me, but am feeling very challenged but also blessed by the opportunity to write about the things that go unspoken. Lots of love xxxx
I love you so much Lizzie. This is far from the first time you share words that break through everything of fakeness.
I got a picture of a completely newly hatched chick… The shell HAD to be broken, because there was no more room to grow. Everything about the newly hatched chick emphasizes vulnerability & weakness, but only now, starting from here can her fullest potential & growth happen.
Steph, thank you so much. I love that image and I do believe it is significant for me and where I’m at right now. Thank you for your encouragement, I will hold onto those words as I enter into that new space. Xxx
Lizzie, as ever an amazing piece. Bless you for being so honest and providing a bit more Vecro. X
Thanks Rebecca, loving my new Velcro patches! Thanks for being so supportive, it really does mean a lot. Lots of love to you xxxx
Lizzie, you have a great gift in how you write: you can express and articulate the deep and important things so eloquently and clearly. Through this blog, you are a huge blessing to others, and through sharing your pain and your reflections so honestly and beautifully, you minister to us all. Thank you! Keep writing!
Thank you so much Bridget. It took me so long to actually write what I really wanted to say this time and I was so worried people wouldn’t connect with it. I never thought I’d enjoy trying to write my thoughts down but it’s been a challenging, enjoyable and sightly scary experience but people’s positive response has been so encouraging and very humbling. Thank you for your support. Lots of love xxxx
Have you been listening to Brené Brown by any chance? 😉
I’ve just finished reading her book ‘daring greatly’ which is amazing! Had been thinking a lot about vulnerability as a result of the incredible response to the blog and found her book on the research she did about shame and vulnerability. I think everyone should read it!
Lizzie, thank you for sharing.
Life lived without barriers, without shame, is a life worth having.
Lou (who used to work at Eden)
Thanks so much Lou. Hope you are well. Lots of love xxxxx
I am, thank you. Life in a religious order is definitely not peaceful, but at least it is prayerful. And I am praying for you and Dave, and everyone who posts on here.