In the spring 2013, I had the honor of sharing my passion for ethics and my work in private practice during a professional marriage and family therapy conference. I spoke to a group of my colleagues from around the state about what makes me excited about being a therapist. Although one can never really arrive, this felt like a milestone on the journey. I was meticulous. I even attempted to sew lace on my socks because I couldn’t find bobby socks for grown ups with lace to match my silver-sparkly converse sneakers!
I go all in. I show up. I allow myself to be really seen. This meant talking about my most difficult ethical dilemmas and mistakes I have made. I was willing to allow others to process how they would deal with these same issues, knowing that their choices could be direct criticism of the choices I made! I spoke directly of vulnerability and read a piece from Brene Browns’ book, Daring Greatly. Her work illuminates our internal battle with operating from the belief that being weak meant being vulnerable. I wanted to communicate that behind our ethical process, we become good therapists when we take our own advice. If we learn to see ourselves as enough, not despite our flaws, but because of them, then our ethics will meaningfully follow the guidelines our professional organization expects of us. Reflecting back, I feel confident in many ways that I effectively communicated these hopes and can continue to grow in my ability to hone my craft. Many people came to me and lovingly shared their positive experience. One person even verbally noted how he loved my “Cindy Lauper like style” and I experienced both gratitude and joy.
Interrupted cloud thought: When I decide on a piece to write about, I scribble little notes to myself to remember good thoughts to write about later……so my note to self for what comes next was, ‘then it goes black.’
Just a few weeks ago, I attended a quarterly board meeting as part of my duties as chapter chair for my professional organization. God had apparently already spoken, but I was NOT listening. I received multiple attachments in an email to go along with the meeting and one was supposed to be the reviews of all of the speakers from this last conference. That attachment did not come to me. So, I told everyone in the meeting that I did not see that and without a moments notice, a colleague graciously handed me the pile of reviews from every persons workshop. I went ALL lizard brain. My mind conveniently forgot that other professionals had horrible moments of falling apart over terrible things people said after their talks. Hell, my hero, Brene Brown, told us of some of the awful things people anonymously posted after her TED Talk! I knew better!!
My overall score, 4.29 out of a 5. That should have been good enough. Who could complain about such an overall positive report that every board member read about? Nope. I had to do it. I read every SINGLE anonymous comment left by my colleagues, all three pages of them. Of course, about 95% were wonderful. What do I remember?…and I quote, “It was ALL about Alicia, It was painful to watch.”
All the air was sucked out of the room. For a moment, it did go black and like all good trauma survivors, I disassociated and emotionally hung myself up at the corner of the room. Returning, the next breath was a sucker punch to the gut. I knew I had to take it, I had created this moment, but REALLY, “painful to watch???” I immediately fantasized about moving under a rock somewhere, never to be seen again. I ached with hurt, sadness and bewilderment. I was ashamed of standing in front of so many of my peers and sharing who I am as a human being.
I believe that without a doubt, I dream what most of us dream. I pray that my life means something. I want to believe what I have to say matters and that someone thinks I am wonderful. I just want my life to matter and that when I am rotting in the ground breaking new soil for the weeds, I want my words to have stuck with someone. I think I have something to say and it means something when someone else takes the time to read, respond and offer themselves in the process. An anonymous comment is not a meaningful offering.
I cannot begin the articulate how I can righteously stand on a soap box when considering a person putting an anonymous comment which they have no intention of owning. It’s like a free pass to take a shot at my head without giving me the opportunity to dialogue or even take a shot back! SHOW UP! Allow yourself to be seen!! Be Vulnerable!! I am fucking trying to – every SINGLE DAMN day! Its almost ironic, because what I was trying to communicate is exactly the opposite of what I received by that comment. I made a conscious effort to show up and what I got back from this one person was their troll from within. My best self says that perhaps- just perhaps, I touched something deeply difficult within them and the fear of not being good enough forced out that wall of a comment.
Even now, weeks later, I am sad when I think about this. I am even more afraid of telling anyone outside of my comfort zone, which tells me that I must. You may be wondering what is the best strategy to shake off the perpetual fantasy of rock finding?
To build shame resilience one must have a few people in their life who have truly earned the right to know your story – then you call them and cry and scream it all out. Brene Brown has a list, yes a list of criteria for those who really can make it into that inner circle. I read it sometimes to remind myself to not fall into some of the traps with my friends for whom I have been given the inner circle privilege.
So I called my BFF, Georgia. I screamed profanity like no one’s business and initially called myself stupid repeatedly. She listened for an HOUR AND A HALF. She knew it was bad when I started the conversation, “Please help me climb down off this wall.” See, I love all things about cats and I was so tense I could imagine myself gripping my claws into the ceiling. She was and is there for me. She does not criticize, she does not even stop me from my own name calling because she knows I need to go through the process. Her famous words from this moment were, “There’s always a troll in the room.” She was not intending to name call, just remind me that I cannot and will not EVER make everyone happy. The singer Michael Bolton had to once swallow this from a reporter, ‘5 million fans can be wrong!’ Yet, last I checked, he was living a sweet life even after cutting off his hair.
Know that every time we put ourselves out there, we set ourselves up to get hurt. But I beg you, do it anyway. When I began blogging just a short month ago, I had two thoughts: NO ONE is going to give a damn about what I say- look at all those people doing this. The next was- WOW! Look at all of those people trying to say something that matters to them and being willing to show up and be vulnerable! Ordinary courage, thats all I want. Then a weapon like the anonymous comment just becomes fuel for something else to write about.