“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of the deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…” – Taken from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech “Citizenship in a Republic” and an excerpt from Brene Brown’s, “Daring Greatly”
Nothing has tested my character more like becoming vulnerable has. It’s one of those attributes that I can hide the easiest from everyone except myself. It will gnaw at you and have you presenting empty smiles that are hollow and words that are perfidious. To not incorporate vulnerability into your daily walk will cause you to watch life versus truly live it, so today I attempt to shed some light on this well-kept secret we all hold close to our hearts.
First let me start by saying, if you have never read the book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, by Brene Brown PhD, I highly recommend it. She definitely speaks to many of the core issues that affect men and women alike regarding the topic of vulnerability.
It’s often said that boys aren’t suppose to cry and as a boy I was constantly reminded of this alleged fact. So I tried real hard to keep my emotions in check as I understood them, but if I can recall correctly, I failed miserably at this, as much as I tried. Therefore I was labeled a “cry baby”. As much as I did not have the ability to control this area of my life, I also learned much later that something else was happening simultaneously that I equally could not control. The impacts of consistently telling a kid not to cry, stay strong or don’t be weak, over the duration of their childhood will have devastating results on that child’s development. If vulnerability were a measurement (which I believe it is) of how safe we feel to be our true selves, than that young person (me) was slowly losing that desire and ability because I learned through others and normal life pressures that no matter how real my emotions were, they were not to be expressed. “Lock it up (your emotions), quit acting like a girl, keep your chin up and never let them see you as weak.” These are some of the common phrases that kids hear growing up, amongst many more that are demeaning by definition.
So there I was, becoming hardened at a young age and didn’t even realize it. Not only did I adopt those detrimental thoughts and ideas as my own, but I would also perpetuate them, therefore almost promising that the vicious cycle would continue. Years later, I never would have realized how those seemingly harmless traits would grow and root deeply into every sphere of my life. How about for you? When did you lose that sense of being a kid running figuratively free in the fields? When did you learn to keep your emotions in check because someone told you it wasn’t what you were suppose to do? More importantly when did you begin to live this way without anyone having to say anything to you at all? That is truly the day when a significant part of you went dormant or perhaps even died.
For a moment imagine the times in your life when you explored things and weren’t afraid to have an opinion or a voice that you were certain mattered to the world, at least your world. A time when fear was not a part of your vocabulary or formula for making decisions. For some, there is not a time you can recall that this was not true. A sad, yet certainly common truth for many.
Two days ago my 10 year-old was messing around on her iPad and decided to share with me what she was doing. She created a movie of herself being a newscaster. As I watched her speak with confidence saying, “this is Alena on ABC news”, (click to watch) I saw a girl who had no fear, a child that believed in herself and was having fun doing it. In that moment I could have told her how silly it was or criticized her for parts that weren’t perfect in my eyes or I could just watch in awe and encourage her to do it again, and again, and again because it was awesome. Thankfully, I chose the latter and was encouraged by her inherent ability to be vulnerable, but I must admit her moment also reminded me of my own inability or fear to become open at times. I remembered myself as that kid, learning quite the opposite. Not because I had bad parents, but because that’s just the way it was in life, period.
To understand the science and research on this topic, again I encourage you to read Dr. Brown’s book, but what I have is my story. A story that is intertwined with the ups and the downs that helped me to understand why my own choice to become vulnerable is often a challenge. But as Dr. Brown states in her book,
“Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
In other words what we ultimately accomplish in life as parents, spouses, lovers, friends, siblings and leaders will be determined by the many layers we choose to peel back and express what is at the core as our true selves. However our lives may come across to others, the decision to not peel back the layers will not only deny who you are, but equally stifle him/her. Then sadly, all the world sees is a shadow of who you are, a shadow of what you think and a shadow of who you were created to be. You’re essentially living behind your authentic self and the world will miss the real you! The you with the best ideas and most important thoughts. The you with that silly laugh and smile, but can bring a group to ease without any real effort. The you that is quirky, but knows how to bring a smile to anyone’s face. The you that seeks out that quiet kid in the back of the room afraid, because that was you as well once upon a time. The you that was often criticized for everything, but now understands the power of empathy and humility. The you that gains a platform where most will never be welcomed because you get it! The you that others deemed as weird or different, but has an auspiciously authentic way to tell a story that penetrates even the hardest of hearts. You see, no one can quite deliver your message like you can. You were born with it and you own it! It can not be duplicated and delivered with the same intensity or passion from someone else. It is what will connect you to your world.
“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering” – Brene Brown, PhD
So where do we go from here? Is it possible to begin to live a life of vulnerability as an adult who did not for the majority of his life? As a living example, I say yes! My choice to publish a blog is completely about vulnerability. Just because one can write about something does not necessarily mean you have mastered the subject at-hand yourself. For example, being married twice does not necessarily qualify me to advise someone on marriage, however my choice to become vulnerable about the topic equally does not disqualify me either. It simply means that I believe in what I have, who I am and that I have the confidence to bring it forth. The outcome is no longer the goal, it’s the doing, the choice to step on to the stage and do the work. That is what truly matters.
So, let them say what they must, because like them, you were also once a critic of the ones making it happen and daring greatly in life. And like them, there was significant part of you that envied the ones that made the decision to become vulnerable. In those moments, as I have watched people passionately, authentically and powerfully deliver a life changing message with their lives, not just their words I am forever encouraged by the sheer courage exemplified in their beings as God’s creation.
“No one can develop freely in this world and find a full life without feeling understood by at least one person” – Dr. Paul Tournier, M.D.
The moment I began this blog I knew a level of my privacy would be gone forever. For many reasons I was just fine with this. I’m not sure if it was the many years of teaching classes and sharing bits and pieces of my life to strangers and friends for years, or going through a few bad relationships that broke me. Maybe its how I am framed. Whatever the reason, here I am sharing my life story to the world with no hesitancy. Some of my friends ask me, “how do you feel after releasing such a personal part of you to everyone?” My answer is simple. I’ve released everything I have written long before I press the send button. It would be too painful to do it any other way. My point is, the journey that I took to get here was hard, agonizing, however essential, like a prerequisite or pre-qualification to share with you on this type of platform. I have nothing to lose by sharing my story to the world. I actually have a sense of peace knowing that my traumatic life experiences, when shared with integrity will impact someone to hope more, hold on a little while longer or keep believing that life is worth living.
It wasn’t always this way. Like many, I had secret parts of me that no one knew about. I was a master at disguising the real me. What I divulged was perfectly orchestrated. No surprises, at least to me. I was in control and very comfortable with it. The sad part about all of this was, I was living a lie (at least to a degree). The real me was hidden and only surfaced when I allowed him to. A “Plan B” was ALWAYS in my line of sight. I would not be hurt, (so I thought) rejected or dismissed by anyone. I knew how to protect myself, like drinking a disinfectant. It’s meant to kill germs, but when applied incorrectly it can destroy everything it touches. This was me. Hurting everyone around me, by keeping the ones I professed to love at a distance. I wouldn’t dare reveal the real me.
Once the brokenness (read my other post to find out what they are) did its work in me and I chose to surrender, my life begin to change. This change didn’t simply occur because I willed it to, but because I was in a new place. A place of reflection, a place of being still and finally coming to the understanding that I was missing something very essential to living a full life. That place was being true to myself. I mean really true. I came across a great book entitled, “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?”, by John Powell.
It challenged me to look into the mirror of my soul and ask myself several hard questions, like:
- What is at the core of my fear to show my real self?
- What happens when I finally disclose who I am?
- Why did I always seem to have a “Plan B” in place?
Answer to Question 1 – Ultimately I have learned to understand that my biggest fear was the fear of rejection. I honestly had a fear that if the most important people in my life truly knew me, there is no way that they would still accept me, therefore that perpetuated the lie. It’s human nature for most of us to believe that we’ll never be good enough or measure up to societies’ standards and the truth is we may not ever measure up, but what we must learn is we are enough as we are. My faith in God tells me that I am ever-growing, imperfect and to trust the process of my transformation to evolve to the best me over time. It cannot be with a mindset of comparing myself to others or pretending I understand something when I truly do not. We all want to be accepted by others, but we must resist the temptation to project something or someone who we have not yet become. If we only fit into a specific circle because of an illusion that we feel obligated to project, than we continue to lie to ourselves and perpetuate a lifestyle that saps us of all the creative energy essential to living a life of authentic wholeness.
To authentically learn to love thyself is to release the bondage of performing for others in order to be loved and accepted.
When we learn what mask we place on our hearts every time we have an opportunity to be fully present, is the moment that our chains will begin to drop off. For those of us that have perfected this to an art form, it may require much more work, prayer and therapy to have full release, but it is certainly possible. I am a living witness.
Answer to Question 2 – It’s easy to think that our world will fall a part when we finally choose to live a life of integrity when we haven’t for so long. When we’re making decisions to bring the real me to the table for the very first time, our common sense may tell us to consider the cost and take delicate steps. As a man who can over think even the simplest of things, I encourage you to listen to your first mind and take that leap of faith and courage. No need to figure it out completely, write a dissertation on it or share it with ten friends, just step out and frickin do it.
Take baby steps at first.
I remember the first person that I confessed to that I was molested and the first person that knew how broken I really felt after my string of broken relationships. It was absolutely freeing! For us men, we don’t do this. We place a cork on every hurt and disappointment that we have ever experienced, and will profess that it doesn’t matter when we know that it really does. We’ll cope by turning to drugs, illicit affairs, meaningless sex, violence and others acts that are detrimental to ourselves and others. While these coping mechanisms may provide a temporary way of escape, they are also equally effective in keeping a barrier up so we can remain elusive, at bay and removed from the painful reality we’re trying so desperately hard to escape. Sad truth is it doesn’t work. It never works. Disclosing who I really am brings on freedom like nothing else can. It’s the truth we have heard of for so long that truly sets us free.
Answer to Question 3 – I’ve learned over the years that having a “Plan B” in place is quite common in most things we do. We’ve been taught as children that with college and career choices, we needed a “Plan B”. We always need to have something to fall back on just in case our first plan didn’t come through. This practice has carried over to serious relationships, even marriage. I recently saw an article on Facebook where a poll was taken on how many women had a backup “friend” in case their marriages didn’t work out.
A staggering 80% of the women polled, admitted to having someone there if their relationships were ever in trouble.
I imagine this is not just a women’s issue, but more a human issue. We will enter into relationships declaring our whole heart to someone, (I know this because I did it) committing our lives, time and future, essentially all that we are safe to share and know good and well we aren’t ready yet. We know that we have only revealed the best parts of us, even after a few years and we dare to take the relationship to the next level. What pain this will bring you! Ultimately, none of us want to be frauds or live a lie, but many of the pains of our lives have made it very comfortable for us to retreat to the person that seems most accepted in that particular moment. No one quite knows but us when we shift into that other guy or gal mode.
We smile and laugh the same, we still share in interesting exchanges and come across as very engaged, but something deep within us has checked out.
The familiar wall begins to rise and soon we’re projecting a limited version of who we are. “Plan B” is full effect at this time. For me it simply was easier to project this guy then to be explicitly open with the ones closest to me. My “Plan B” was my safety net and I had justified why I allowed it to exist, not realizing that it was suffocating those important relationships and my own personal growth.
Thankfully, as we continue to journey through life we find ourselves with opportunities to grow. These are typically the times when we have suffered a broken heart or some other type of tragedy. When we confess that we hurt, or that someone hurt us we can begin to own that pain and do something positive with it.
The pain is just the indicator, like a warning light on the dashboard of your car.
It’s our opportunity to heal by acknowledging the pain. It’s our opportunity to remove the walls that have effectively kept us watching life, versus doing life. Being afraid to tell someone who you really are is indeed a scary thing, but I have learned its scarier to live a life alone, a life alone with people all around you that are clueless to the real you. It’s time to step off the ledge my friends. Dare to believe that you can.
“When I am anxious, it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed, it is because I am living in the past.” – Unknown author
So for years I have been sharing with others that I was molested as a young boy. Not just for the sake of divulging my personal business to the world, but primarily to help others. It almost became second nature to talk about it with someone who could identify with my story. From the outset, I felt it was very therapeutic to have meaningful discussions about it. After all, I had forgiven my accuser, even though she denied it ever happened, but truly I was all good. Well except for one small part, which came to my attention years later.
My innocence was stolen every summer from about the young age of 6, until I was about 9 years old. It was my secret to keep as instructed by my perpetrator, and I certainly obliged her until I was 24 years old. I recall speaking to a family member about it to gain some insight and advice on how to handle it. At that time I was so concerned about hurting her (yes the perpetrator), that I didn’t want to expose her. After all, I loved her (in a being victimized sort of way). So I took the advice, which was to forgive her, release it and move on with my life. Now the forgiving part was fairly easy, because I truly had no ill feelings towards her. The moving on part, not so much. It would not be until almost 20 years later that I began to really understand that not only did I not move on, but I couldn’t because I had never truly dealt with the real issues of what I experienced as a boy. I was stuck and it would take more than positive confessions for me to be free. What was key for me to understand in that period was I had not dealt with the devastating trauma and aftermath of my innocence being stolen. I had only dealt with what I understood, and what others were comfortable telling me, which was to forgive her and everything would be okay. Sadly everything was not okay. Quite the contrary actually. It was not until my second divorce that I begin to truly examine my proclivities, thoughts and choices that ultimately led me to the impetus of a breakthrough. I began by reading a book entitled, The Sexual Healing Journey, Wendy Maltz. I discovered so many things about boys that have been molested by an older girl or woman. From how we process the trauma, our thoughts about the opposite sex, how we may protect ourselves or build in distance in close relationships, our inability to authentically connect at times and a seemingly inherent gift to become emotionally distant at a moments notice. All this based on an abused mindset. Below are a few questions that I would ask myself.
Why did I think as I did?
Why did I feel bound, dirty, lewd and over sexualized?
Why was it so hard to control my thought life?
Does every man feel like this?
- Why is it so easy to disengage with people?
You see, I think so many of us victims of molestation spend endless years living in secret, due to the shame and embarrassment we feel, and we effectively begin to live a double life. A life full of secrets that I honestly believe are even a mystery to us at least initially, and are all typically based on fear, guilt and shame.
As I read through the book, I prayed, counseled and did some much-needed self-reflection. I began to understand, finally. Not only was I not crazy, deranged or some weird guy, but I was quite normal for someone who had been victimized as a child. Now the key was becoming whole in order to no longer allow my past to dictate my future. For me this meant coming to a profound revelation about my molestation.
That is as my title of suggest, is a “dark-dark” secret. The “first dark” represents what we typically know about this issue – that is, it is shameful (until we understand it’s not our fault), therefore it remains a secret, in the closet of our perplexed minds for decades or for some quite possibly a lifetime. A life that probably lacks meaningful intimacy, closeness and vulnerability. A life that can live in fear of repeating the act on someone else so everything is avoided, people included. It can become quite an erratic existence until you get a grip on what lies beneath the surface of your emotions. This requires coming to the ultimate truth of who you are at the time. That could very well be a person that smiles in public and cries in secret. One that projects confidence to the public, however lives a life of fear and intimidation. Or maybe someone who suffers from an addiction that shame won’t allow you to profess, even to your closest friend, spouse or life partner.
The “second dark” represents something much deeper and sinister, which is the secret of who you become and why as a result of molestation, without early intervention. If all you know is one thing your entire life, it’s almost impossible to see it another way. That becomes your new normal even if its is wrong, off base or unacceptable to society. These statements do not suggest that it’s okay to act impulsively on your feelings or make decisions without license, but more importantly it captures the complex layers of confusion that evolves when this type of victimization remains locked up, harboring in a swamp of delusion.
You see being molested took something away from me. It stole my ability to have pure and healthy thoughts (my innocence) as a child, therefore it shaped many of my decisions and actions as an adult, only with a victimized mindset. It wasn’t until several years ago that I identified the “second dark” as a lie, and a facade of my true self. Something that attached itself to me through the act of being molested and effectively intertwined into my psyche, thoughts and very actions as a man and past husband. I lived with it, accepted it as mine and simply thought this would be my struggle to bear for the rest of my life. I assumed that I would never truly be close to a woman and my most important relationships would be kept at a safe distance. I just did not know what being close really meant for me. I could teach it, read about it and help others feel comfortable working through the process, but as for me, not so.
I desperately needed to understand (from my soul and spirit) that I was created for purity, wholeness, wellness and with an ability to love intrinsically with openness and honesty, despite the molestation, yet I was far from that, because I had never honestly dealt with it. Just the normal surface stuff.
Ultimately the real me became the secret, even though I had professed the opposite my entire life.
I was trapped in a shell of disillusionment, tormented by images that projected a distorted view of who I truly was. So I have finally come to the conclusion that the “dark-dark” secret truly was me. The real me, afraid to stand up and say I am not a victim any longer. This argument was not with anyone, but myself. No one else in the world knew this but me. Hence, why it became my “dark-dark” secret.
I want to list a few steps on how this revelation came to me to leave you with some hope. They are as follows:
- Be true to yourself – Being honest with ourselves is one the hardest things to do, because this is a time to finally own what is truly ours.
- Listen and trust what you hear – Sometimes what we hear first is exactly what we need, but we become experts in doubt and distrusting our first thoughts.
- Step out in faith in the small things – Don’t try to conquer the world with your initial moves. Tackle confronting the lie you have lived with all this time versus confronting others.
- Realize that you are not your past – Don’t allow your past to define your future. Get counseling and surround yourself around people who speak truth and love in your life.
- Take your power back – There will always be naysayers in your life. Don’t indulge in conversations that lead to you explaining yourself so someone else. The moment you do that, you have given them power over you.
- Begin to live your life as an over-comer, not a victim – Victims are always making excuses for what and why they cannot do something. Begin to take ownership for you. Stop blaming others for what they did to you. Take control of your destiny by establishing new dreams and goals for yourself. Make each day a new day. A step closer to a better you!
So if you read my “About Me” page you will recall that I have been divorced twice. Not something I am proud of, but equally not something I am ashamed of any longer either. I cannot say the second marriage was a mistake, but more importantly a decision I made that I was not fully ready for. The signs were clear, but I ignored them, plain and simple. I wish I could go deeper and say that it was something more profound, but it wasn’t. In my spirit I knew better, and like so many of us I ignored the obvious signs. So there I was, at the altar committing my life to someone I loved, before God and witnesses, but equally knew that I should not be getting married. It was a teachable moment in the making. Boy was it! God must have laughed and cried at the same time wondering and knowing what was in stored for his foolish son. On with the story…
She was a good woman (not perfect) that had high hopes for our marriage. I thought I did as well, but in the background lied a real past that was unresolved. That past would come back to teach me one the most significant life-lessons ever. (That specific lesson will be discussed in another post soon) Indeed it was one of the most difficult ones as well. I was broken and distraught that I had hurt so many people during this part of my life journey. It was not until one Sunday evening that I came to grips with the real pain that lied deep within me. A pain of hopelessness, shame and abruptly being alone. I was overwhelmed with the feelings of grief, death and loss. I’ll never forget that night. My children were at their mother’s and I was upstairs prepping for the work week with a heavy heart and it hit me like a ton of bricks, suddenly. I fell to my knees, cried out to God and yelled, “How am I going to make it, I mean really come through this”!? I wish I could tell you it was a simple process that suddenly became easier, but it wasn’t. It actually became harder before it got better. Quite honestly it was my faith in God that brought me through and my decision to confess my part to myself first then to a few trusted friends. From that point my healing slowly began. It was a journey that took me more than a year to fully recover and feel better about myself and my walk in life. Along this journey I took a trip back east to visit one of my best friends. Ironically, I was served with divorce papers that same week, so a trip was just what I needed to process my thoughts. Prior to leaving, I placed everything that represented my marriage in a metal box in my room, figuring I would deal with it when I returned home. During my visit my friend tried his best to cheer me up, after all it was my birthday weekend, to add insult to injury. Honestly, all I wanted was some quiet time in a different atmosphere, and to not see one happy couple while I was there. Unfortunately I was not obliged with this simple request 😉 . We went to a restaurant that turned into a club. I walked around and saw all these happy couples dancing. Ugh, was my first and last reaction! So I sat down, ate my dinner and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Just then, while minding my own business, a lady asked me to dance. Really!?! (No one ever did that to me) I looked at her for what felt liked an hour, contemplating no, but finally saying yes. It was actually painless, but I was ready to leave after that and we did.
It was on my six-hour plane ride home that my breakthrough would come, like an epiphany. I finished a great book I had started back home, entitled Kingdom Man, by Tony Evans. There was one sentence in this book that I will never forget. Evans said, “most men are unable to move on with their lives after suffering emotional damage because we remain tethered to our past”, with the key word being tethered. Even after life has seemingly moved on for us men, something keeps us back, whether bad memories, guilt, people or ourselves. Maybe it’s our innate desire to fix things. I’m not quite sure what it is actually, but it was in that moment that I realized what I needed to do when I returned home. It was as clear as the stars were in the night sky from 30,000 feet in the airplane I was in. I’ll never forget, my plane landed at San Francisco International Airport after midnight. After the normal routine of obtaining my luggage, catching the shuttle to my car and making the forty-five minute trek home, I finally made it there about 2:00am. I can still recall the energy I felt inside for what I was about to do. There in my room lied the metal container of memories that I had mentioned earlier from my now defunct marriage. Before I left I had no idea what I would do with these items, (that truly represented my state of mind and feelings) but now at this time I was clear, confident and certain with a strong sense of peace, courage and hope. I grabbed the metal container, took it outside to my barbecue pit, poured some lighter fluid on it and burned it. (see the photo). I called a dear friend to share my moment and I watched it burned until the flames went out. During that time I felt a release, a sense of letting something go that no longer wanted or needed to be a part of me anymore. That night I made the decision to press the play button with the rest of my life. I left for the East Coast with the pause button pressed, wondering what I was going to do and how I was going to fix my current circumstances. I realized that I could not or need to fix anything. What I needed to do was let go, move on and free myself from a past that could have potentially ruined any future that I had left to live. That was my new beginning. Today I am no longer defined by my past nor tethered to any emotional guilt associated with it. My past now only helps me to make better decisions for my present and my future. My freedom came in the fire, even if it was only symbolic.
What are you still holding on to? What act was so bad that you cannot seem to let go of, or you constantly feel compelled to apologize for? How many, “I am sorry” does it take to feel better? When are things finally over, how do we make amends with ourselves so that we can live freely again? For me it was through the fire, literally and figuratively, owning my part (truly owning it) asking for forgiveness and having a deep remorse for my actions. This along with my faith set me free. The remorse was painful, almost suffocating to my soul, but I pressed through it with much prayer, a great friend or two and the will to be better, versus bitter. Do you realize that you can be better? Are you able to see yourself living a whole life again? The journey is one day or night at a time. “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. (Psalms 30:5 KJV). As I reflect on this photo that I took that night, I recall the moment my past truly became just that. Something behind me that no longer had the power to wreak havoc on my heart, relationships and most importantly my hope and courage to believe that I actually deserved to love and be loved again. I had finally released my past…
This journey continues for me. I’m interested in hearing about yours. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on how you have had to release something or someone in your life that represented your new beginning, or send me an email.