A few years I go, I reconnected with an old flame - which was a mistake. However, the distance with which we were able to grow without each other allowed us to have much more honest, and not so emotionally-charged, conversations about our flawed past.
And in one of these conversations, he said something that stayed with me. He told me I wouldn't allow myself to be vulnerable. That in those moments it came for me to remove my armor, he'd have to do it first before I'd consider saying anything that made me feel emotionally raw.
At first, I felt rage. Here was a man who had reduced me to and seen me in tears more than probably anyone. How dare he say I'm not vulnerable! I've always been someone whose emotion blankets my expression and routinely cries at the end of a sappy movie -but I was confusing sensitivity for vulnerability.
After the anger faded, the thought stayed with me. And although he meant it in the confines of our relationship, I noticed it elsewhere and in the years since. After enough failure or heart-ache, I was walling myself up against anything that could cause it again. I wasn't trusting my gut, and wouldn't leap if I couldn't yet see what, or who, would be there to catch me. I thought I was protecting myself. Instead, I was preventing myself. Preventing myself from taking risks, embracing change and going after things that mattered. And I think this happens more often the older we get, when we realize we're not invincible and learn to play it safe versus confidently believing in what actually makes us happy.
And in looking back, there are so many moments I haven't said what I should have, didn't give a chance to someone that deserved it or gone after what I wanted. Why? Because I was afraid.
That fear had handicapped several parts of my life, and it translates here. People want to read something that's real, genuine, maybe to the point of it being uncomfortable because it rattles something deep inside them that they wouldn't normally engage.
People talk about breaking down their walls, but it's a hell of a lot harder than they let on. We get cozy in our ways. But I think just knowing what to change is the first step in actually changing it - and it gets easier one layer at a time.
It's not easy, but I'm trying to trust life more, and protect myself less. Will I get hurt? Of course. But scars are beautiful.
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