vulnerability

Navigating the in-between

I grew up in a world of binaries. In or out. Saved or damned. Black or white. Right or wrong. Heart or mind. Theory or practice. The institutions and authorities taught me how these either/or options sufficiently explained the world around me – places and people. I believed it. The certainty that was available in this approach supported my subconscious desire to avoid vulnerability.

For years, the only place I have felt truly able to engage my mind has been the academy. Not only did the academy push me to continually deepen my thinking, it supported the heart/mind disconnection. A total comfort zone for me. So, I suppose you can imagine my shock and dismay when precisely the place that had enabled my inner dichotomy was where it was challenged most.

I took the curriculum-as-living-inquiry elective for my masters because my first choice was not available. I knew the philosophical, reflexive approach would drive me crazy, but I didn’t think the other options were any better. I resolved to appreciate the challenge. Maybe I would learn something new.

I lost count of the number of times my eyes rolled as I read articles about humanness and heart in education, lived curriculum, poetic inquiry, ecological identity and métissage. It seemed I was looking at an abstract painting I did not understand. I wondered half-seriously if the writers had been high when they wrote their pieces. I mean, really, what place did these things have in the academy I had grown to know and love? The place – the only place – where my mind was nourished, and my heart was inconsequential? Was this its betrayal?

I wrestled for weeks with the two morning devotions I had to prepare. My own devotional life had been a struggle for some time. While I could hear past spiritual teachers in my mind saying, “If you don’t have an hour a day to spend in Bible study, I can’t help you”, it just did not work for me anymore. It seemed I was only hearing God clearly when I was going for a walk by the water, yet I felt such guilt for not fitting the mould. What could I say that did not require me to abdicate authenticity and integrity, pretending I was in a place I clearly was not? The answer came to me on one of my walks.

As much as a part of me holds on to my childhood world of binaries, I realized that for some time I have been living in-between, in a place of tension. Studying Aoki’s curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-lived, Pinar’s currere, and rhizocurriculum based on ideas from Deleuze and Guattari spoke not just to my practice, but to my personhood. The plan (binaries, rigid theology and practice) had been disrupted by the lived (my experiences and interactions with others). Though the plan sought to segment and cut-off lived experiences, like a plant’s rhizomes, they popped up elsewhere, prompting a continued consideration. Currere asked for connections between past experiences, future potentialities and present realities, positioning them within a wider political and cultural context. Who is served by maintaining a binary approach to life?

In all of this, I was drawn to Parker Palmer’s discussion of disconnectedness and wholeness. Separating practice and personhood in my devotion would be an attempt once again to avoid vulnerability, except this time the desire was not excused in the subconscious. The benefit of maintaining the binary was avoiding the uncertainty of vulnerability, yes, but at the cost of personal fragmentation and violence. A much higher price, in my estimation. The devotion suddenly came together.

Though I thought the academy had betrayed me, it had actually been a good friend. It had wounded me in the service of an ultimately good end – my integrity. A life whole and undivided. I am not there yet, but I am also not where I was. I am in-between.

Admitting Weakness

This is the fifth of seven posts in the Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse series. All posts available here.

I continued to struggle with an intense fear of vulnerability. Constantly questioning peoples’ motives was exhausting. As a youth worker, I was afraid that somehow even I might also be manipulating others, especially the teens I worked with. Two journal entries spaced nearly a year apart show continued struggles in my relationships.

May 2014

Sometimes I want so much to believe but I can’t.  What if it is not what it seems?  What if I’m being played again?  In reality that seems unrealistic.  I’m much older now and I should be able to spot it.  But all that caused me to doubt myself too.  In some ways I still feel like a child.  This is all so confusing.  When I think I’ve put it behind me, new situations bring it up again and cause me to experience it in a different way.  I can never escape it.  It’ll always be a part of me I guess.  Like you can’t erase your scars.  Sometimes that makes me really sad.  It’s hard to constantly experience new aspects of a painful past.

I think it’s also become a ‘role’ that is harder to trust.  People in Christian leadership, pastors, etc…they are hard to trust. 

March 2015

I realize again how scary it is to be vulnerable, even a little bit, and how hard it still is for me to trust people. I’m still experiencing the effects of what happened before. I don’t think I’ll ever be completely free of it. Even with physical wounds the scar remains. I just wish it was easier. I don’t want others to pay for his mistakes, but the reality is that it still hurts sometimes and I’m still discovering the effects. I don’t really like thinking about it because it brings me down. It already took so much from me, and I don’t want it to take more, but maybe I have to face it again to move on. I’m sick of feeling down though. It feels like a rock and hard place…maybe I have to sacrifice short-term to benefit long-term.

Finally, in the summer of 2016, I had two breakthroughs. For the first time, when I shared my testimony with friends, I included the story of abuse. I was finally ready for it to lose its power over me. I had no need to be ashamed for someone else’s actions. I also went back to counselling. It took three years after I came off medication for depression. I was self-aware enough to see the continued effects of the abuse in my life, particularly an inability to trust, a skeptical nature, and self-doubt in my interactions, never knowing if there was cause for concern, or if I was just transferring past reactions to current situations. I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own. Even though I had been to counselling before, I still struggled with feeling like it was giving in to a weakness. I should have fixed things by now, or gotten strong enough to fix it myself. I had to convince myself that the only weakness would be believing I didn’t need help.