Choosing to be Vulnerable with Elizabeth Krusen, ONE Wellness Founder
I have been on sabbatical for the last five weeks. When I first went away, I was going to leave it at that. But it is not the whole story. The whole truth is that I have been struggling with an eating disorder since the age of thirteen. I was almost hospitalized then, but was scared into eating, and the underlying problem was assumed to be “cured” as well. The real problem was the fact that the underlying problem wasn’t cured but simply pushed beneath the surface, hidden beneath a facade of perfection. The image I presented to the world was supposed to be a reflection of my inner life. Except it wasn’t. My entire sense of self was wrapped up in this image of perfection: being smart, athletic and attractive, achieving and performing. My identity became intertwined with this perfect persona because I was too scared to turn inward and feel the difficult feelings that are inherent to being human. We all share these fears and struggles of not being enough, of not being able to know and accept ourselves as we are. I wasn’t given the permission or the language to feel these feelings.
In her piercingly insightful book, All About Love, Bell Hooks illuminates the fact that we are forced to live a life of lies because our culture provides no space in which to voice our insecurities and fears. We are conditioned to believe that being vulnerable is being weak and, as a result, we are forced to put forth an image of strength and power and perfection. The problem is that the feelings don’t just go away; they become part of our subconscious, and they manifest in unhealthy ways, dysfunctional coping mechanisms. My eating disorder and alcoholism are two examples, but there is an endless list of “medicators” that are supported and perpetuated by our culture: technology, work, exercise, shopping, self righteousness, power. Really any behavior that we engage in in order to escape or numb our feelings can be seen as a medicator. It is all about intention. Exercise in and of itself is a good and healthy endeavor. However, in my case, I felt so compelled to exercise that it could take me away from sledding with my kids on a snow day; as a result, I missed precious valuable moments with them. This compulsion to exercise, this medicator, was taking me out of awareness, and therefore I was unable to make decisions that were in line with my values. My family is at the top of my list, yet I was choosing exercise over them.
Meditation allowed me to soften enough to turn inward and recognize how much pain the dissonance between my inner and outer worlds was causing me. Meditation helped me see that I didn’t know how to feel my feelings because I had been numbing them for so long. My time in treatment over the last five weeks provided me with the safety and support I needed to be vulnerable in order to feel and express my feelings. It sounds so basic, but the ability to feel and express difficult feelings, especially fear of not being enough, is the key to compassion and connection. Compassion and connection, with respect to ourselves and others, are our most basic needs. I am choosing to be vulnerable; to tell my story and live my truth. My hope is that I empower others to do the same.