Vulnerability and Expectation

(Trigger warning. Some mildly graphic details of parental death)

There are two themes that keep coming up for me. In my thoughts, conversations, reading, and in my writing.

The first is vulnerability. The second, expectation.

I don’t think the two are in any way connected, but I am certain that they are a part of this puzzle – of life, love, longing, grief, and moving forward through the trauma and the pain.

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong. It’s goddamn amazing. I feel like I am doing the hard work she writes about – being a badass, being vulnerable and present, being my most aware self. And it is hard as fuck. Never in my life have I been faced with such insurmountable challenges. I am literally facing down my demons; and I am winning. She talks about vulnerability and our ‘stories’ (what we believe to be true in our minds) – for me that piece translates to expectations.

My dad died right in front of me when I was 9. He had pneumonia and one of his lungs exploded at home. I watched as my mother scooped vomit out of his mouth and tried to give him CPR. I tried to run out of that hallway where his body had fallen but she made me come back to help her. I was NINE. I watched as his nose turned blue and then a vivid shade of purple. He wasn’t breathing. He wasn’t getting any oxygen. He was dying. He was dead.

I didn’t want to watch any of that; I had no choice. That memory is seared into my mind like a painting. I have played and replayed that moment over a million times. I have asked myself why he died a million more. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, effectively robbed me of any ability to love fully, feel whole, feel self-worth, and be vulnerable. My PTSD brain, from that moment on, tried to control everything; from my day-to-day life to my relationships. It wanted predictability, safety, and never, ever surprises of any kind.

Guarantees. There are no guarantees; a fact that still pisses me off.

When your brain is hardwired to view everything as a threat, you cannot possibly be vulnerable. It is not an option. My brain was quite literally rewired in that moment of severe trauma. I disassociated from myself for the first time that day. I completely left my body as my mind perceived imminent danger and did what brains do. They fight, flee, or freeze. I didn’t fight – I was not a fighter then. I froze and I fled.

I know that my mother, at age 37, was doing the best that she could. I know that she needed help. There were no cell phones in 1984. I had to call the police. I had to do what she told me. I am a mother now; my son is 9 years old. And I know in my gut that I would never, EVER let him watch someone he loved more than life itself die in front of him. “I’ve got this!”, I’d say. “Go! Get out of here!”, I’d tell him. And I would take care of it. I would absorb all of that terror.

Maybe I am really saying those things to my 9-yr-old self. That little girl needed protecting. She needed saving. I can do that for her now. I can help her. I can hold her hand and we can walk away. My 42-year-old self is in a space of strength and courage that I can tap into. I can take that child and protect her. I can and will heal her. EMDR is saving my life.

What about this expectation piece? I read something the other day that said something to the effect of; “No one has broken your heart, they broke your expectations”. Damn did that to get me. I am still trying to untangle that statement. My ex hurt me; didn’t he? Did he not break my heart? Or did he make selfish choices that I reacted to? Perhaps my hurt and my heartbreak were my own and I needed to react and fall apart so I could reemerge and put myself back together.

He certainly broke all of my expectations around having an intact family and someone to grow old with. What do I do now that the future I expected to have is GONE? The future I expected to have as a little girl with a mother and a father – GONE. Is this the true source of my hurt? The loss of my predictable and planned out future?

If I let go of expectations around love and life, what am I left with? My own shit. My vulnerability (HA! They are connected!). I have to let myself be present in the moment. Right now. Right here. Not a week from now, not 30 years ago, not last year. NOW. Letting go of possible futures with possible endings. When I let go of any and all expectations I might have, I am forcing myself into a state of vulnerability as I am entering into a space where I literally have no control or say in what happens – save my own decisions and the choices that I make.

July 24, 1984. My brain broke that day. My daughter was born on July 24, 2009. Exactly 25 years to the day that her grandfather died. My little girl is a magical creature filled with love, light, and an emotional capacity I marvel at every single damn day.

I cannot predict the future. I do not know what today or tomorrow hold. There are no certainties. There are no guarantees. People die, babies are born, people will leave you, and people will walk into your life seemingly out of the blue. To let go of expectation is to be vulnerable. This is my life goal. I am right here, right now. I am doing the best that I can as I bumble along this winding path on my crazy journey. My heart is opening up for the first time in 33 years. I am completely terrified but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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5 thoughts on “Vulnerability and Expectation

  1. Doug

    Hi Amy,

    You’re right about feeling, PTSD and vulnerability. It’s being able to feel. It’s being able to feel your own life, as it happens. It’s another word for mindfulness, child’s mind, beginner’s mind, whatever.

    I’ve watched people die, both family and as a former medic, watched ‘strangers’ die. There are no strangers in death. Without religion or any other bullshit, I have had to try to explain DEATH to the 7 and 9 year old versions of my children when my son’s best friend died of a ” mystery virus” after a 6 month stay in picu, with multiple transplants, in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday, 2007. It fucked us all up, for life. One cannot explain death to children and refusing to couch the subject in bullshit hurts me to this very moment. But, if I could change it, I would not.

    And I’m grateful.

    We don’t have long here. Seeing a 5 year old ‘force of nature’ with an appetite for life that could take class 4 river rapids in a kayak with hands raised in that ‘fuck yeah!’ victory posture… and then watching him die, slowly, for six months, fucks you up, permanently.

    It also cuts through all of my bullshit like a chainsaw. It also fucks me up that I still have to deal with my own bullshit, every day, just so I can put food in our mouths and keep a roof over our heads, but I do that, like a trained dog…

    So, we begin to learn that there are ‘good periods’ where an attitude of open hand and mindfulness and pure awareness are all that is real.

    And then we BEGIN to realize that fully living each moment IS all that is real.

    And that, as my Vietnamese buddy says, “There is no road to happiness. Happiness IS the roa.”

    I think you’re beautiful.

    Keep it up!

    Doug

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