On September 12, 2010, I received the weirdest email of my life. Sent by my lifelong friend's estranged husband, it simply read, "She failed an alcohol test at the outpatient clinic tonight. They are admitting her for inpatient. She just couldn't do it."
I stared at the screen, utterly confused. What is this guy talking about? Failed a test? Inpatient - does that mean she's going to rehab? What in the hell is going on?
We had not lost touch, my friend and me. She lived in Texas, I lived in the Deep South, and we talked on the phone frequently - about her imploding marriage, and about my own chaos during that time.
We talked all the time, but I had no idea what this bizarre email meant. I tried my friend's number. It went to voicemail. I called her sister, then emailed her husband. Through a series of emails and phone calls over the next few days, I slowly realized my dear friend had a drinking problem. I felt like John Nash's wife in A Beautiful Mind, standing in the hospital and insisting he worked for the FBI. The whole world turned on its side as her reality came into focus. For over a year my sweet friend had been living in a complicated web of denial. Without realizing it, I had been helping her hide.
Yesterday, as I listened to Ted Talks about the ways we numb ourselves to hide from vulnerabilities, that email came to mind. Thankfully, my friend has put her life back together. She's been sober for two years, she has a great job in her career field, and she is about to remarry. But alcohol rippled destruction through her life and her children's lives for years. I wonder, what would have happened if she hadn't needed to drink? If she hadn't needed an escape? What if, like Brene and Glennon both suggest, we all stopped fighting vulnerability, and instead learned to glory in it?
After listening to their talks, I noticed something. Not only are we hiding, but we openly encourage one another to hide. Does this ever pop up in your newsfeed?
Or how about this?
Even as I say it I want to blow it off. It's a joke! It's just a glass of wine. Who cares?
But it's not just a glass of wine. The joke makes light of a serious reality. They are saying, I can't stay present with my kids any longer. I can't be a mom right now. It's too hard.
The most difficult part of my recent close call was realizing how vulnerable we all are. I can pour my entire life into making sure a favorite t-shirt is clean, into baking nutritious foods and reading books aloud and picking out just the right birthday cake, and still my children could die. I brought all of these kids into this world where they could just ... die. And nobody ever told me. Until this summer, I had no idea.
I think about how vulnerable we all are. I think about Glennon Melton, hiding behind food and drugs, and my dear friend, numbing herself with alcohol. I think about my realization this summer, that my kids could just ... die. Then I see these images in my newsfeed. And I think - no! Don't hide! Don't hide when they're driving you crazy and don't hide when the truth is unbearable. Just stay, right where you are. In the middle of babies screaming and your frustration. In the middle of feeling completely overwhelmed. In the middle of your fear and hurt and anger and uncertainty. Just stay. Stay in the moment. Stay with me, because I am here too. I'm doing it right now. We live in this world where our babies can die, no matter how hard we work to protect them. I'm angered and terrified by that reality, but I refuse to hide from it.
Because, as Brene Brown said, vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy. It is where we find fulfillment and happiness and peace. The way to survive this terrible, beautiful existence is to lean into it. Open yourself up to it, accept it. The screaming toddler beside you, and the reality that he may not live a full life. Joy and fear flow from the same source, and if we hide from one, we also hide from the other.
I didn't always see life this way, but I'm so glad I do now. I'm thankful that, even in the middle of the most beautiful, terrible, vulnerable moments of my life, I do not need to hide. I thank Brene Brown and Glennon Melton.