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.