I had a scare this summer that rocked my world. It was the perfect storm of fear, imagination and anticipation. I was shocked when it had a happy ending, and used that fresh intake of oxygen to learn about myself and my apparently limited capacity to live in the present moment.
Here are the facts of the story: my husband had an MRI for an injured knee and learned that he had some weird cycsts growing in his knee joint. Upon further testing, one the “growths” (they were careful not to call them tumors) had actually grown through bone. Because of his family history (his two sisters and mom have had breast cancer), his surgeon referred him down to an orthopedic oncologist at Mass General for a closer look.
Here’s what I heard: Todd has cancer. We’re just finding it now, but it’s actually metastasized and now it’s in his bones. It’s going to be bad, ugly, and hard. He’s going to die. Your boys will be devastated and will never recover. You will be left alone and will need to shut down your business as result. Get ready.
Fear takes center stage.
All of this went down over our two week vacation this August. Lots of time and space to think, which most definitely did not work to my advantage (enter stage left: imagination). We camped out with the kids, while Todd left for the morning and got an MRI. I made mental lists, Googled bone cancer on my Blackberry, and made a note to write down his social security number I can never seem to remember. We rented a cottage on Lake Winniepesaukee in New Hampshire and swam and played with the kids. And waited for the phone call from the surgeon (enter stage right: anticipation) with the results from the second MRI that took days to come and then more days to actually connect while we played phone tag. I took pictures of Todd with the kids, all the while thinking of how much they would treasure these when he was not around.
It’s embarrassing to admit now, but there is is. Totally raw and uncensored.
Here’s an even more embarrassing admission: I began to distance myself from my husband. Here is my life partner, my beloved, the light of my life – and the very time he needed me most, my initial reaction was to detach emotionally. I began thinking about my mom and all the other single moms I knew. What’s more pathetic, I began to identify with them. It feels awful and painful to admit this, but there you have it. Raw. Real.
But here’s when it all turned around: At the appointment with the oncologist at Mass Gen, the doctor takes one look at my husband’s MRI results and pronounces it, “nothing for us to worry about.” I burst into tears – uncontrollably sobbing, snot running, the whole nine-yards. The doctor looks at me knowingly and says, “Oh, you took this one for a long walk, didn’t you?”
I stopped cold. Yes, it’s true, I had played out the worst case scenario in my mind – not as a possibility, but as a foregone conclusion. I cringed, given what I believe about the Law of Attraction and how our thoughts can shape our reality. But as I sat in that doctors office, holding my husband’s warm hand, I had another shocking realization: I had been taking things for long walks my whole life.
The aftermath from that event this summer has been both intense and extremely illuminating. I have always considered myself comfortable with being vulnerable. I see it as a strength, a gateway to learning, and an immensely powerful tool for connection and intimacy. Yes, all that is true for me, but this last lesson revealed to me that I was just scratching the surface of my capacity to make myself vulnerable. So I watched Brene Brown’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability again and gained some insight as to where I might be getting hung up in my underwear.
I soon learned that I had fallen into the trap of numbing vulnerability, rather than opening myself up to the full-monty impact of vulnerability. Instead of letting myself be really, really scared, I got defensive and ready to fight. Instead of allowing myself to feel vulnerable, I clamored for control. An understandable human response? Sure, you could make a case for that. But if I’m honest with myself, those are my trademark go-to responses when I’m running away from something. I was desperately tying to “selectively numb emotion”, as Brene Brown shared we have a tenancy to do in our society. I had some emotions on my “yes, I’ll feel that” list and some on my “no way in hell will I feel that” list. Nice try, huh? Um yeah.
What I’ve come to realize, is by numbing the bad stuff, I was inadvertently numbing the good stuff. Apparently it’s a package deal.
Brene Brown talks about her own journey into exploring her capacity to be vulnerable as a “year-long street fight.” Vulnerability pushed, she pushed back. She admits she lost the fight, but “probably won my life back” as a result.
That’s what I want – not the street-fight (although anyone who knows me well is chuckling right now because I’m thoroughly stubborn and a Scorpio to boot…) – but the winning my life back. That’s what I want. And deep down, I know I’m capable of so much more. than I allow myself to feel.
I want the full-monty life. I want to live whole-heartedly and access the limitless joy that is just beyond my reach and waiting for me.
But most of all, I don’t want to be wasting my precious life energy by taking any more unnecessary walks. I’m not sure how that looks, but I’m pretty certain it begins and ends with staying put and resisting the urge to flee the scene.