Why I Have Decided to Scream

(trigger warning: sexual assault)

When I write, it feels like I’m screaming at the top of my lungs from the edge of a cliff. It’s like I’m getting rid of everything clogging my mind. Finally after repressing, recovering, and reorganizing every polarizing thought for over a year and a half, I’m going to scream it.

It seems strange to say something like this to random readers on the internet. But for some reason it feels safer. I don’t have to see the look in my sisters’ eyes when I tell them something I once loved so much broke me. I don’t have to hear my best friend cry because she wishes she could have done something. When I write it down, no one gets to see how painful it still is to relive it over and over.

I recently fell away from the church. Hearing the hurtful teachings of confused men and women who are convinced they speak truth became too much. The white-washed history that is constantly denied became too much. The denial of any fault within the church became too much. But it was not anger that fueled this departure from something I once loved, it was betrayal. It was confusion, and it was heart break.

The event contributing to my apathy toward the church is this “something” I’ve been wanting to scream. It is not a singular event, but it was something that triggered my need for seeking answers, and something that opened my eyes to the worst part of the church that everyone seems to ignore.

In early September of 2017, I was sexually assaulted while attending BYU-Idaho. And I said nothing.

I remember walking over to a friend’s apartment after I had just moved into mine, and we were going to watch a movie. It had just rained, and I loved the smell of the rain. I was wearing the slightly baggy jeans that almost fit, but never fit just right, and an old red flannel mens shirt I had just gotten at DI.

We were in his living room with his roommates, and with a signal from him, they left. Whatever, his roommates were still in their rooms, I didn’t plan on doing anything. He began to kiss me, and I kissed back. Then something else happened, he had managed to unbutton my pants.

I said no.

He said his roommates wouldn’t be coming out any time soon.

I said no.

He said it was fine.

I said no.

He said he’d keep his pants on and he wouldn’t go any further.

I. Said. No.

But that didn’t matter.

He held me down so I couldn’t move. Pinned down my arms so I couldn’t push him back. I didn’t know what to do, I said no so many times I could not give you a number. He was bigger, stronger, and I got so tired. He told me to be quiet, not to cause a scene, so I gave up. He went too far. Farther than I wanted. By the time he was done, I felt sick. He sat on the other side of the couch and told me I could leave whenever I wanted. So I left.

I ran home. I sat in the shower for who knows how long, trying to let the scalding hot water somehow clean off what had just happened. Then I curled up in my bed and prayed.

I told Heavenly Father I was sorry.

We lived close to each other and attended church meetings in the same building. I saw him walking to church the next day. He was holding a bag of bread. And he smiled at me.

Whenever I heard stories about sexual assault, as much as I tried to understand, I wondered why it took so long for anyone to speak up, why sometimes nothing was said at all. How come so many people let their abuser walk free?

Then I understood. There is a common theme of students at church schools not coming forward with these things, whether sexual assault, or mistakes they want to repent for, they hold back. Because there is a fear of being kicked out of school, being embarrassed, or not being taken seriously. This is mostly due to the honor code at each school that can influence students to keep quiet on things that they feel they can’t let out without major consequences.

Although I understand this is a major contribution to so many situations, overtime I’ve come to understand that it can be so much more than that. I’ve realized in the last year and a half that not being believed, or facing consequences I didn’t deserve wasn’t what kept me quiet. It was the guilt that too many are conditioned to feel from too early of an age within the church.

At the time of my assault, I had worked in the Executive Office of the university for almost two years. I worked with administrators and executives that I had come to love. If I would have said anything about it, I have no doubt they would have stopped at nothing to make sure I received justice.

Unfortunately, I realize this is not the case for most victims of assault, and too many are not taken seriously. However, that was my case. And the reason I never went forward was because I felt guilty. From such an early age I was taught that it was my job to keep  priesthood holders worthy. They held the priesthood, and to show respect, we should keep them worthy enough to have it.

The words this man had whispered into my ear as he broke me played over and over again, “What did you expect?”

What did I expect? Should I have expected to give up my right to say no? Was it actually my fault? I did not expect to have my dignity ripped away from me by a man I saw as a friend.

I am going to say it, I have never met anyone more entitled than a mormon man who thinks God made him untouchable. Some of the worst, most terrifying men have come from the LDS church. I say this because it’s the men we are taught to trust that are developing these behaviors. It’s terrifying because I was taught to see priesthood holders as good men, and then I trusted one and he tore me apart. I still trust and see my priesthood holding friends as amazing, and worthy, but they do not see themselves as untouchable, immune. It is, maybe the few, but too many other men who are blinded by their conviction of superiority.  There are groups that justify each others’ actions with the mormon culture they believe is doctrine. I know “not all men” and the next person that says that to me I’m going to egg their house.

The point I’m getting at is that there are too many.

That night I ran home, I prayed. And I said I was sorry. I was sorry. For something that shouldn’t have happened to me. After normalizing this behavior for so long, the harm was so completely done.

I was too afraid for too long because of the idea that I was in trouble. Because of a culture that shames those who don’t want to stay quiet about things that are happening anyway. This is so dangerous. This mormon culture surrounding sexuality, marriage, and women is so dangerous. Let it die. Just because you’re uncomfortable with the fact that entitled men never receiving consequences doesn’t fit your idea of the perfect church you love, does NOT mean it doesn’t exist.

Are you aware of what this culture is capable of doing? Are you aware that the things so many of you ignore are causing so many of those you claim to love to rot from the inside? Are you going to keep turning away from this conversation because it makes you uncomfortable?

I want to reiterate this to you just one more time; I told Heavenly Father that I was sorry.

Because of someone who I trusted, someone that I saw as a good priesthood-holding young man, I was broken. I felt betrayed. I spent so many nights under scalding hot water, letting it turn my skin red because it felt like I was cleaner. I still spend Sundays zoning out because I remember more details about that night in a boys apartment. I feel cheated out of something I put so much work into. After the assault, I decided to go through the temple. I threw myself into the church because maybe if I did, I could be complete. I did everything I was supposed to do. I studied every scripture I could, I gave my testimony in church, I taught classes, paid my tithing, and I prayed. And as much as I begged myself to feel complete, I never did.

Because after that night, I began to look more closely at those around me. I saw the toxic culture being taken as truth, and I noticed how so many people around me were oblivious to the faults within this ungodly thing they worshiped. They were more concerned with pleasing an institution than being human beings.

I tried. I really did. And like some of my friends have already told me, no, I did not distance myself from the church because “I fell for the temptations of the world” or because a bad man ruined my testimony. I distanced myself because after already questioning the harms of a culture and the teachings of an institution, I saw the ugliest side of something I once though was beautiful.

We talk about “causes of sexual sin”, we argue about the credibility of victims. We talk about how to prevent it, how to defend ourselves, but when are we going to talk about the amount of perpetrators? When are we going to discuss the narrative that makes them think this is okay? When are we going to stop acting like this isn’t a big enough deal? Especially in recent months, the conversation has become larger and louder, but it’s just not loud enough. We are just not doing enough.

To the good men that respect the women they date, the women they’re friends with, and any woman they come across, thank you. But we need you to do more. We need you to listen to us, to believe us, to help us. To yell with us.

It’s not enough to just be a good guy. You need to start a conversation as well. Talk to and educate your friends, roommates, brothers, classmates, and remind them that their behavior isn’t acceptable. Educate one another, and be an advocate for women. This is not just a conversation for victims, but one for those who are willing to listen.

Support us. Support every woman and man who will come to you seeking comfort. Do not let this culture that you’ve grown used to restrict your right to speak up. Don’t let it make you believe that you are less than you are. Let yourself get angry about this, then do something about it. Don’t let that anger sit with you, but put it towards changing the narrative that allows this to happen. This is just too common, and it doesn’t need to be.

There are too many men I’ve had conversations with that think this idea is radical. When I speak up about this terrifying and growing issue in the church, I am radical. When did the notion that your sisters in the gospel deserve to be treated like women of God become radical? When did men who wear white shirts once a week become untouchable? When did questioning the culture forced by people, not a gospel, become apostate? When did conforming to fit the ideal in a toxic culture become more important than having faith in Christ?

I know what too many of you are going to say, “this is not a common thing, there’s just a few bad eggs making a bad image for everyone!” Stop. That reasoning is why it is still happening. Brushing it off because it’s not big enough for you is what is making it bigger.

This behavior and this culture of being untouchable and ignoring the voices of hurt or concerned women is not taught by the gospel. It is taught by entitled men to others.

I am adding this paragraph due to the comments from members of the church stating I let one man ruin my relationship with God. He did not. If anything it brought me closer to God than ever before. I do not blame the priesthood, I do not blame God. I am pointing out the culture of the church that makes some men believe they are immune from consequences. The culture that has conditioned young women to feel responsible for things they shouldn’t be responsible for. I love my God and Christ and I have felt the comfort of Him in my worst times. My testimony of them is not reliant on my testimony of an institution.

I am not radical. I am not apostate. I am not overreacting. I am desperate for others to listen to so many people who have been hurt and silenced. This church is not perfect. The people who lead it are not. Your bishops, leaders, and teachers are not perfect. I have been taught too many times that things the common man teaches should be taken as gospel. But that is what got us here.

That is what got me here.

I would also like to add that this is not the end of my contribution. I’m not done telling these stories, or participating in this conversation. To the brave women and men who came forward and inspired me; thank you.

To the men that have taken me and so many women for granted, harassed us, assaulted us, made us afraid, and kept us from speaking; this is not over. I hope the fear that you will not always be free to walk away from your decisions sits with you. I hope it forces you to see yourself for what you really are. I hope what you have done rots you from the inside, like it has to us. We are not done with you yet.

And as for me, I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to say his name out loud. He knows exactly what he did. I confronted him, and he mocked me. He still finds ways to contact me, to . patronize me. I understand why it is so difficult to say their names out loud. It was terrifying. But I am no longer afraid of him. I am no longer as angry as I used to be. And although he walks free, and he fools everyone with a pat on the back on Sunday afternoons, I know exactly who he really is. And I think deep down inside, that scares the shit out of him. Maybe this is why the men that are too many, continue to become more aggressive. They get uglier, sneakier. It becomes a common behavior, because if it happens more than once it’s no longer a mistake. The cold, holy exterior hides the fact that they are exactly what they swear they are not.

And because he seems to find me no matter how hard I try to hide from him, I have a strong suspicion that this incredibly ugly man will eventually find this article. So I dedicate this last bit to him.

I won’t try to convince a jury or an institution that you are not who you say you are, because I have found peace in a better justice.

The God you think made you untouchable, is the same one that is going to remind you that you are not.

Old Friend

Hello old friend.

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at you.
I’ve seen you, from the rear view mirror,
Or maybe I’ve glanced upward when leaving a job that
Makes me tired.

The craters in your face, like wounds,
Make me wonder how much you’ve seen.
How much you have looked at, studied.
Witnessing things that have made you tired.

I’m sorry you’ve seen so much.
I’m sorry we’ve made you look at us hurt.

I know the feeling of being forced to witness unbearable hurt.

But in a way, I am jealous.

I am jealous of you because
Although you see so much bad,
You get to see all the good.

What is it like to see two people
From far away
Who’ve never met
Never spoken
Never known one another’s mind

What is it like to see them lie down
And look at you
To look and wonder at the same time?

What is it like to watch two people
Who do not know each other hope
For the same good you get to see?

What is it like
To witness that most human thing
Of wondering if someone is looking
At the same thing you are?

To see them love something
The same way?

That must be what keeps you around
When the world gets ugly.
It hurts to keep looking
But you can’t stop.

I don’t think I’d be able to look away either.

Spots of Light

you remember that night when
I was sick to my stomach and the world made me sad
and you held me until my wet, tired eyes could finally rest.
and you touched my face and intertwined your hands with my hair
and I don’t know if you knew that I was still awake.

you don’t remember that I can remember.

I remember getting the feeling that you wished
my hair was actually my hands.
I remember peeking through my hands
to see you looking at me.

and I remember how much I could feel.
not the sickness in my stomach or the hurt the world caused.
but I could feel electricity in my spine
as you held me
after such a long time of feeling nothing.

but I never told you.

now you are so far away but when you call me
to ask me what kind of juice to buy
or to just sit in comfortable silence until I’m tired
I feel like you are next to me in the front seat of my car
looking out to the world that hurts to see
but it’s so beautiful.

and when we speak
it’s like we’re counting each individual spot of light in the sky
like we are never going to be done
because there will always be more

and while sitting in those front seats
I’m waiting for a dying comet to come along
to let me know that it’s okay to tell you how numb I wasn’t.
I look at you like the way you might have that one night
when you thought I wouldn’t remember.

sometimes when I look at you I swear
I can see you searching for that same comet,
but I can’t tell if it’s real or because I want you to.

so I won’t tell you.

because this is not as easy as I’ve seen in the movies
and it’s not cute or romantic
but it hurts.
but not in the way the world hurts me.

because although it hurts to feel these things
it is a privilege to be hurt in this way
not because it feels like I can’t breathe
or because it feels like my legs will give out beneath me

but because in those moments
when I might catch you looking at me
it feels like the electricity in my spine.
the kind I felt that night when all I did was cry.

I know you were probably never looking for the same thing I was
and that you simply loved the way the night looked
from the front seat of my car.
but it was a privilege to want something that bad.

I hear all the time
that wanting something you’ll never have
is a waste of time. of energy.
of feeling.

but I don’t feel like this is a waste
because now I know what it feels like
to love so hard you ache.
to love so hard it feels like you can’t breathe.
to love so hard that suddenly the world doesn’t hurt you
as bad as it used to.

so I’ll just sit in this seat
watching you enjoy the night
until you find something
that makes you feel the way I felt that time you held me.

even though I know you might not be watching me
or wanting me
or wishing my hair was my hands.

I will never tell you
any of this.
not a word.

because the comet never came.

Sunday Afternoon

I know that my heart is light and eyes are calm
I know my fingers are gentle and my spine is delicate
I know that when I want to be,
I am in no way fragile or small.
I know that I am a gentle force.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why.

Why I’m never the one you call at 2 am
While looking at the ceiling, feeling sad but not knowing why.

I still wonder

Why I’m not the one you stare at
While my eyes are not looking.
Why my gentle fingers are not intertwined with yours
Or why my spine is not the one you trace
On a Sunday afternoon before falling asleep.

I know that someday I will be this person,
Not to you, but to someone.

I know this someone will look at me
The way I wish you would now.

I know that I will be everything.

I know this.

I know these things.

And even though I know these things
I still wonder why
You do not.

Continue

I look at my tiny blue veins
Running from one end to another
And I think about how there really is no end
To the streams in my body.

They move constantly. They do not stop.
Even in the lowest of lows
They still run.

And I think about how we are like
These small blue endless rivers
Constantly moving. Never ceasing.
And we are the veins of this existence.

Maybe one day we will stop
Flowing. We will stop rushing.
But as for now we circle around this body
Creating life.

And we will continue to do just that
We will continue to run and move
Until this body becomes too dry and tired
To continue.

The Family Favorite

I was the good one. I followed the rules, kept quiet, did well in school. I was the peacemaker. I made sure I chose the right side, and I was never angry. I was always told I was calm, cool, and collected. I advocated for everyone to respect and cherish their parents, no matter the mistakes they made. Everything I did, I did it for them.

I began to hate it. I hated when I was mocked for being “perfect”. I hated the way others knew the truth but I was too stubborn trying to keep the peace. I hate that I denied the way I felt, and what I thought about myself was always based on the actions of others. It just wasn’t worth it to me anymore.

I began to realize how imperfect I wanted to be. I didn’t have the desire to cause trouble. I didn’t want to be selfish, rude, or loud, I just wanted to stop pretending everything was alright.

The more I thought about the things I have experienced, the more I realized how much I had kept inside, and the more I realized how okay I wasn’t. From then on, I became reluctant to accept the decisions my family made. I loved them, but it angered me that I had to put up with it so often.

After my first year of school, I went back home. I loved being home, but I started to recognize patterns of enabling, guilt-tripping, and ignorance. I left for school early that summer because I knew if I stayed longer, I would get upset and say something I wasn’t supposed to. It was like I was a bottle of pop that had been rolling around in the back of the trunk, waiting to be opened. I decided not to open that bottle.

And then that December happened. While on my way home for Christmas, there was yet another conflict. I became upset, angry, sad, I felt everything all at once and I drove back to school because I was sick of putting up with it. After a phone call and a few guilt-trips, I made my way back “home”. Once again, what happened was swept under a rug. I overreacted, the way I felt was wrong, and I needed to support my family.

I went through the rest of my sophomore year of college not knowing who I was, or what I stood for. I made decisions I would never usually make, and surrounded myself with an attitude and with people who I never would have before. I had no idea what I was turning into. I was nothing like the person I was when I began school, and part of me missed that person.

It wasn’t until after that year of school, while I was at home that I realized who I wanted to be. Well, everything I didn’t want to be.

The way conflicts were handled in my home enabled them to happen again. The ones I love became the ones I tried to avoid. Nothing phased them, and if it did, it only lasted for the night. The next day, it was supposed to be okay, and we’d forget what had happened the day before. It was unhealthy in a way that it did nothing. There was no solution, because after a day or two, the problem no longer existed. Maybe they could see the problem,  but even if they did they were too scared to say it out loud. I was tired of being scared, so I began to pay attention. I was tired of ignoring the bad. It physically made me ache to hide it.

Once again, I was in the constant loop of other people making decisions that impacted me more than they could know. I realized during this time that I was almost not allowed to feel. Because when I did, it wasn’t right. I realized that this is why I stayed neutral. I stayed calm, and I swept it under the rug. When I felt, and when I refused to accept the things that were happening, I was disrupting the cycle. The conflicts lasted more than one night, because I refused to forget them.

I became the problem child.

I became so tired. I was exhausted. I no longer wanted to be the perfect daughter that hid evidence of wrong-doings. I no longer wanted to be quiet. I no longer wanted to keep the peace, because there was little peace to keep.

I was angry, moody, loud, and I overreacted. I punched holes in my door, and I yelled. There was a moment where I became so angry, I threw a bottle of vodka at the bookshelf in my mother’s room. I reacted to everything because if I didn’t, it would go unnoticed. And yet, I still felt guilty for it. In my family’s eyes, I was selfish, spoiled, irate. They were shocked. They didn’t like it. At first, I didn’t know why I was so angry all the time, and I felt guilty. I apologized for it. I was even told that rather than throwing the bottle at the bookshelf, I threw it at my mother. They made me feel as if nothing I said was valid. Nothing I said was true. That bottle never came close to my mother, and I knew it, but once again I felt guilt. I questioned everything. I felt like I was the one causing the problems.

After one event that I will never forget, I finally understood.

I had bottled everything up. I had lived my life following every rule, obeying every command, sweeping every little bit of anger, resentment, wrong-doing, and conflict right under the rug where I stood every day. The bottle was not just opened, but all of its contents were spilled, staining the rug where I hid everything.

How I lived was not normal. How my family lived was not normal. I loved them so deeply and maybe that’s why this frustrated me so much. I loved them and they saw that I hurt but they didn’t like the way that I hurt. They didn’t like that I couldn’t let it go. They didn’t like that it hurt me. I understood that I was a grown adult, but they didn’t understand that I was still their child.

So I left and I never went back.

And this is why I write about it. Because even still, after seven months, no explanation is good enough. No reason is a good enough excuse. They still don’t understand why I ached, why I hurt or why I was angry. They still don’t understand that my life is not meant to revolve around them. That’s not what we are here for, the ones we love so deeply and intensely, are not always the ones we are meant to hold on to. If we are lucky enough, we get to keep these people near us, but that’s not always the case. I wish so badly that I could, but I don’t think I can.

And there are so many days and nights where I fight that homesickness. Where I’m one button away from apologizing to my mother. Where I want to get in my car and go “home”. There are days where I think that I should have kept pretending to be the perfect daughter, that maybe I did deserve to feel that guilt.

But, there are even more days where I can breathe. Where I don’t have to choose sides, and where I can feel so much all at once. There is no bottle or rug. I am in an open space that I have the potential to fill with all of my anger, my sadness, my conflict, my wrong-doings, and every bit of feeling that I have. And although this room is crowded, and I keep filling it, nothing is hidden. Nothing is trapped or collecting dust or housing spiders. These things can breathe and so can I.

And no, I don’t have everything figured out. I don’t know the answer to everything. But I know that right now I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. I know that I am not being selfish for wanting to breathe. Although I love my parents, my mother who came back for me and my step-father who raised the bar so high, they still don’t understand, and I’m not sure if they ever will. I left. And I don’t think I will ever go back, because that is not my home.

I am my home. The space filled with everything that makes me is my home. I wish so badly that they could understand. That they could see how badly I was hurt. How I ached. That I don’t hang onto these things on purpose, or to cause guilt, that I don’t hang on at all. Theses things are permanently attached, because they made me. The things that have happened, everything followed me. When these things happened, as much as I tried to stop it, I was suddenly that twelve-year-old girl again, left, confused. And I think that no matter how old I become, these things will continue to be part of who I am and shape who I have yet to become.

I hate it. I hate knowing that the decisions of others have such an effect on me, but that’s just how it is. No amount of counseling, time, laughter, crying, or forgetting works. It never does. I don’t think it ever will.

I miss them. I miss the fun times when there was nothing to hide. When I did forget. I miss the smell of my mother’s baby lotion, and my stepfather’s hugs. I miss when I could look them in the eyes honestly.

But I miss me more. I’ve never had a chance to be the home that I needed, but I knew that I eventually could. I missed someone I never met, but I knew them deeply. I knew their desires, needs, and fears, and I missed them. I missed myself so much.

Maybe that is selfish. Maybe everything I swept under that rug should’ve stayed. Maybe I have absolutely no clue what happiness means. These things could all be true, but if they were I don’t think I’d mind. I am nowhere near being a perfect daughter, but I can’t remember the last time it felt so good to admit to having flaws. Because in my eyes, in the room filled with the things that make me a home, I am not selfish. I am not self-absorbed, self-righteous, or naive. I am homesick.

Not the kind that makes me miss the tiny blue house in the middle of nowhere, but the kind that hurts my chest when I think about losing myself again. I miss myself so badly, and I just want them to understand. The love I have for them will never go away, but the love I have for myself has grown. I don’t think I will ever go back, but I have found a home within myself.  As clustered and crowded and as messy as it may be, it is my home. I built it, and I’ve rebuilt it over and over again. I sometimes miss the homes that weren’t really mine, but I’ve missed me so much more, and I think I’ve almost found her.

The Power of Vulnerability

Weakness. Naivety. Exposure. Powerlessness. Frailty.

These are the synonyms used for the most powerful characteristic we can have.

Vulnerability, by definition, is the quality or state of having little resistance to some outside agent. It means becoming exposed to the elements, at risk, susceptible.

Despite the negative connotations this definition and synonyms have, vulnerability is the single most difficult trait we can obtain. Even while I was pondering the subject of this TED Talk, I had trouble coming up with arguable reasons as to why this trait is anything but weakness. How can I make it seem like being a wimp is cool? How do I explain this? I’m going to try.

When we think of vulnerability, we think of fear, embarrassment, and not being sure of what is to come. We as human adults are doing our best to avoid these things. We are too old to be scared, we are too mature to get embarrassed, and too detail oriented to jump into something when we don’t know the outcome. But numbing ourselves from experiencing these comes with a price; we no longer have the opportunity to experience the authentic kind of happiness the world has to offer.

I want everyone in this room to close their eyes.

Now, think back to when you were a little kid. When were you the happiest? How did it feel to experience that inconsequential joy? If this is not the memory you are thinking of, I want you to bring up a time when you were absolutely disgusting. When you were in the dirt, making mud pies, trying to catch frogs with unknown diseases in the pond, picking bugs off of plants to hold in your hands or your pockets. If you can’t think of anything then I guess I was just a gross kid. Okay. Open your eyes.

Why was it so easy, so necessary and unquestionable to do these things? This is off topic but have you noticed that kids are absolute sociopaths? They have the ability to do anything they want and feel no fear or remorse. It’s actually frightening. Anyway, what I’m getting at is that doing these things was so easy, because we were vulnerable. We didn’t think about the consequences, we hadn’t learned everything yet. Everything was new and exciting, and we just wanted to experience it. We didn’t get embarrassed unless someone told us we should be. We didn’t fear everything unless someone told us that we should.

We’ve become like this because of classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is, by definition, a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired; a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone. For example, Jim Halpert ringing a bell and offering Dwight Shrute a mint. Then one day he rings the bell and Dwight expects the mint but nothing happens.

Everything from our speech to emotional responses are simply patterns of stimulus and response. As children when we fell, our parents ran up to us and said “oh no, poor baby”, and who knows, it might not have even hurt, but we learned to mimic and reciprocate those same emotional responses because we associate falling with negative emotions. When we did something stupid, which I did plenty of when I was a kid, we didn’t know it was stupid unless someone pointed it out. We were born vulnerable, raw beings, but over time that has changed because of what we’ve learned from other people.

Now, here we are. 

I’m going to bring it back to fear and the unknown. We’re too old to get scared, too detail oriented to jump into things where the outcome is unknown. But really, we’re more scared than we ever have been. We’ve learned throughout our lives to be scared of all the “bad things”. We’ve learned that it’s dangerous to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is weakness. It’s frailty. It’s powerlessness.

But do we really have power if we don’t allow ourselves to feel everything we’re supposed to? Is it really strength if we’re too scared to try something new just because we don’t know what will happen?

About seven months ago, there was an incident and long story short I ended up in the hospital. That night in the ICU, I remember feeling just about everything. It was then that I realized, that I promised myself, that I would always feel everything. That I would simply live. I didn’t realize, however, that doing so would be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I had to strip myself completely of everything that I have ever learned about happiness. I had to turn myself inside out and allow myself to be really seen. I had to become raw. I had to become vulnerable.

I’m nowhere near close to being an expert, but I like to think I have a pretty decent idea of what that entails.

The first thing is shame. Forget about it. In order to really live and grow and learn we need to learn to shut out shame. Shame is the feeling that comes along with thoughts of inadequacy. It’s what we feel when we think we don’t deserve love. Shame restricts ourselves from freely expressing our emotions, or our thoughts, because just maybe we shouldn’t be feeling that way.

The second thing is conquering the unknown. We need to throw out the idea that we shouldn’t do things just because we’re not sure how it will turn out. No, I don’t mean we should all jump off buildings or touch fences with signs that say “high voltage” just to see. I’m talking about the things that you think about doing but skip out because you don’t want to get embarrassed or because it might not even matter. I’m talking about asking out that guy in the library, even though he might say no (this has totally never happened to me ever haha). Go bridge jumping with your roommates even though you’re pretty sure you’re scared of heights. Apply for that job in that dream city even though the thought of moving your entire life somewhere you’ve never been scares the crap out of you. Be the first one to say I love you. Unless it’s only the first date, that’s not courageous, that’s insane. Do the things that you might look back on one day and think I’m glad I did that. Vulnerability strips us from the ability to ignore these opportunities.

The third and last thing is to throw everything you’ve learned from other people about being happy out the window. Seeing other people react to the their circumstances isn’t how you should react. Everything you’ve seen up until this point, has been the emotional response of those around you. This has led some of us to think “Is that what happiness is supposed to look like?” “Is it weird that not doing certain things still makes me happy?” “Am I doing this all wrong?” The answer to all of these questions, is no. We’ve been conditioned to think that certain things are going to make our lives better, that we’re supposed to have certain things or qualities, but that just isn’t true. Everyone is so different, and no specific combination of circumstances, career choices, or experiences is tailored to fit more than one person. So throw that all away. Get rid of it.

Get rid of the things that make you put that shield over your emotions. In order to be vulnerable, you must surround yourself with people who won’t take advantage of that.

I’m going to rewind back to seven months ago. In that hospital bed, in the dark, connected to different machines with wires stuck all over my body, all I wanted to do was be happy. It has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. Realizing that people I love so deeply are not good for me was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Stripping myself of everything I thought I was supposed to feel was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Making myself seen, actually, completely seen in the most raw sense has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m nowhere near finished.

Vulnerability takes guts. It means throwing away pride. It means shaking the idea that reacting and feeling different than others is strange or not okay. Vulnerability is becoming the most raw versions of ourselves. It’s being seen, actually, truly, seen.

Thank you.