My husband and I were discussing how our youngest daughter became the catalyst for my blog. He pointed out that I’ve had many other monumental life experiences and asked me a valid question, “Why was the birth of our preemie my most pivotal moment of all?” I didn’t have an immediate answer.
After really absorbing the question, I realized that throughout my entire life, everything was always planned out and there was always an order for what would come next. You can ask anyone that knows me, I am by no means a Type A personality, but I am definitely driven. My nature is to be prepared for the unexpected, and I had plans B, C, and D ready to go. However, all of that changed with the birth of our youngest daughter. I was no longer following a concrete plan, and for the first time in my life, I found myself unprepared and I had no clue what was going to happen next.
We were completely stunned with the news of our 3rd surprise blessing because my husband and I struggled with infertility for many years to the point that we adopted our first baby and sought out help from a gynecologist to finally get pregnant with our second child. Never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we could conceive on our own.
After our daughter was born at 26 weeks gestation there was much uncertainty about her health and survival. I was completely overwhelmed and became vulnerable to the notion that I failed to take care of my health during my pregnancy; we could lose her; and our happy family would never be the same again. I was in the middle of a life changing event that I had absolutely no control over. As a mother and a physician, I was powerless to “protect” my baby and these feelings were further compounded by the fact that no one could provide me with even a glimpse of reassurance that my daughter was going to be ok.
A life changing event (whether it is a major loss, financial, health, relationship, etc.) launches you into vulnerability and it exposes all of your insecurities, imperfections, and fears. For me, I was at my rock bottom, and as I grieved the loss of the opportunity for a routine full-term delivery, little did I know that my most vulnerable moment would open me up to a whole new world of possibilities once I shed the old stuff that was been holding me back from seeing all that there can be. (A previous post discussed how this experience helped me to rediscover my sense of self).
If you ever find yourself in a life transition, consider opening up your heart to the following tips and techniques that can help you find growth from vulnerability (in spite of the pain or fear). Working through these strategies will help you discover your strengths and courage even in the most challenging situations!
Accept that this is life right now – Accepting that it is what it is, doesn’t mean that you have to like it or that it’s sufficient. But until you can accept this is where you are, you can’t start to let go of what you’ve been clinging to that is holding you back. And if you can’t do that, you can’t move out of this place of transition into a new, better life.
Grieve your loss- Experience the pain or fear without going into the story surrounding what happened or what you are scared of. For example, when you feel the sensation of fear or grief come up, notice where it happens in your body and the thought may start. You may tell yourself a story– “I can’t live without him because…” or “Why did this happen to me? I’m being punished for…” or “I’m going to end up homeless now because….” These are the stories or thoughts you want to stop when you notice them playing through your mind (and they will)! When they do, recognize them for what they are–only thoughts; and go back to feeling. This is part of the acceptance of what your life is now. You must experience the loss and grieve before you can fully move forward in life.
Surrender – As you grieve, your first instinct will probably be to resist the pain, to make it go away somehow. It makes sense to do so when our world is falling apart–we struggle against it. We rage against our circumstances. We shake our fists at the sky. Do all of that if you must, but then, surrender by letting go of the resistance and fear.
Take extra good care of yourself – When life has changed, that is not the time to put yourself out there and take on more work. You need time to experience your feelings. If that means that you need to take a few days of vacation time or sleep more than usual, then do it.
Focus on the present moment – This goes along with the stories our minds like to create around the emotions we have. As much as possible, “catch yourself” living in the past, through how perfect life used to be and living in the future, worrying about all the ways your life could never be good again. The past and the future are only mental constructions. Only the here and now exist. Sometimes all you can do is take one breath. Take one step. And then the next. And then the next. This kind of living is actually very freeing and gives you a place of solace from your constant thoughts about the past and present.
Do one day at a time – You may be overwhelmed. Instead of thinking about how you are going to live the rest of your life, focus only on doing what you can do today. For example, just for today, you will eat healthy food that nourishes your body and mind. There’s absolutely no need for making big decisions right now. In fact, when you feel this vulnerable, you shouldn’t make big decisions. Just focusing on one day at a time is enough for now.
Do only what is absolutely necessary – In the beginning phase of your life altering situation, don’t take on anything that isn’t necessary. Go to work, eat, sleep and whatever else is required today You need this space and time to heal and grow. However, be very clear, there is a difference between having your space versus isolating yourself.
Let go of the judgment and self-blame – Yes, this is a doozy, but it can be done. Judging others and blaming ourselves for the way things worked out is part of the stories that we tell ourselves. You may feel that you made a bad decision that ended up wrecking everything. Or you may blame another person involved but ultimately, there is nothing to be gained by wallowing in these thoughts and feelings. It is what it is, and now is the time to let go of blame and judgment so that you can move forward from your suffering..
Find refuge – What is your solace? It might be a friend, spiritual belief system or chocolate chunk ice cream. It might be attending a support group or therapy. It can be anything that helps you live in this current moment and makes you feel safe and loved. There’s no right answer, as long as it is a healthy way to deal with the fact that you are unsure about what your future will be like. Of course, ice cream isn’t “healthy” but it’s better than some other things you could lean on short-term.
Ask for help – This is probably not going to be easy or comfortable at first. We are inclined to pretend everything is perfect, not wanting others to realize what a mess our lives are in. Did you know that everyone else does that too? Believe it or not, we’ve all been there, and most of us would be happy to help our friends through a rocky patch, or even when the sky is falling. Asking for help not only will get you the help and support you need but will also show you who truly loves you. You will start to see all the kindness and beauty there is in the world.
Be grateful – You may be thinking right now that you have nothing to be grateful for. It can seem that way, but when you drill down, you’ll see that you do. You are breathing. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. Your pet is happy to see you when you come home. You have food to eat today. You have the ability to take a long, hot bath. You don’t have to come up with huge things. In truth, the simple, small things in life are often the best things in life and the things we can be grateful for. Before you get out of bed in the morning and before falling asleep at night are perfect times for thinking about what you are grateful for. Gratitude keeps your heart open to the beauty in life, even in our darkest moments. Out of gratitude grows the grace we need to face an uncertain future.
Let go of what you can’t control – The truth is, we believe we have control over much more than we really do. We can’t make someone else change, for example, though we often try. We can’t go back to what we had before; we must move forward. Struggling to gain control usually gives us the opposite – more struggling. You can do everything possible to get hired for a job you are highly qualified for, but you can’t make the company hire you. Practice the letting go of what you can’t control and trust that you will learn and grow from the experience.
Remember that nothing lasts forever – This can be a challenge to believe when it feels like nothing good will ever happen to you again. It’s true all the same. Everything in life is impermanent – the good things and the bad. The transition isn’t comfortable, but you will feel happy again.
In fact, you may find that you end up feeling more fulfilled than ever once you start to see the following amazing possibilities available to you:
- You know what doesn’t work for you
- You eventually feel uplifted
- You’ve learned what is really important
- You’ve been “at the bottom” and have less fear about things that were holding you back before
- You have the impetus to change
- You don’t have to be the strong one all the time
- You don’t have to be perfect to be loved
- You feel free by letting go, by surrendering
- You can release the fears that have kept you “safely” stagnant
In conclusion, vulnerability happens even when you feel most prepared. It breaks down your guard and pushes you out of your comfort zone; and you are forced to face life’s uncertainties head on. In your attempts to pick up the pieces of your life, vulnerability gives you an opportunity to discover your courage. So, rather than resist being vulnerable, be brave and embrace it. Your moment of weakness can be the source of your true strength.
Reflection: How have you managed your vulnerability?