Last weekend, I attended a men’s retreat* with the intention of forging deep connections with other men - something I have always been simultaneously drawn to and afraid of. In the last few years of my life, I have - with slowly increasing vigor - followed this quiet but nagging internal voice into joining a weekly men’s group and inviting more vulnerability into my life. I decided I was ready to finally sink deeper into the admission that I need others. This, of course, ran contrary to the values instilled deep within me at a young age - I’m speaking of self reliance and complete independence, which inevitably lead to the pervasive need to be considered better than my peers. Although these values have their uses, they can rob us of the genuine intimacy and connections because of their refusal to accept our biological interdependence. Until this retreat, I believed I had overcome my aversion to deep connection through willful vulnerability, that I had all but mastered this practice. What I have known since is that I have still been holding onto a small slice of my independence or, more accurately, my isolation from others. I have been giving greatly of myself in recent years but only to a certain point, past which I am still protecting what is mine.
Since the retreat, I have been further investigating this notion that I am still protecting some parts of myself. When I look around at others, I realize that everyone is doing this to some extent as well - and for good reason! How can we expect ourselves to go out and truly be who we are when the society we live in is so desperately inclined to shame, condemn, and cast aside those parts of us that aren’t deemed socially appropriate? And why would I give all of myself and surrender my ego when those around me are still inclined to promote their contribution before mine? Long ago, I chose to embrace the path of vulnerability and connectedness and reject the “every person for themselves” ideology that leads to isolation. What I now humbly recognize is that I have not yet fully committed myself to vulnerability as a foundational practice.
Today I write with more questions than answers. I am convinced that living a life of vulnerability will allow me to forge stronger, more authentic relationships. I know that when I do this, I can physically feel this connection - it feels warm, energetic, and calming in my chest and diaphragm. In some way, I’m addicted to it. I also know, however, that I often recoil from this whenever I feel hurt. This hurt not only closes me off, it most adamantly tells me to avoid sharing that I am hurt. As I bring awareness to my body right now, I notice that I feel uncomfortable and vulnerable putting these thoughts to words. I have been taught my whole life that men don’t cry. Just suck it up and get on with it. I practiced this so much, I even still sometimes have myself convinced that I am not hurt when I clearly am. I deny my hurt to myself because a part of me says it is unpopular, even unacceptable. Sharing it, especially with its source (the person or event that elicited the feeling), still brings up such great apprehension that I rarely ever do it.
I can feel that I am still holding back. I want to let go, but I’m scared. I’m afraid I will be judged, especially by other men, as weak. I know this stands in the way of me living my life to the fullest, but for now, it’s too much for me. Today, I am happy to admit that I am too afraid to share my deepest hurt. I feel free from the prison of denial that I’ve been living in. Now I know what I must do next and I know that I’m not ready just yet. But I am ready to admit to this, and I feel relieved. Today, as I move forward with my life, I am afraid to share my hurt.
*The retreat I attended was put on by Evryman. I am overwhelmed with support for their cause and grateful to have shared in this deeply impactful event. For more information and upcoming events, check out their website @ http://www.evryman.co/