by Snezana Vukovic, Karana Rising
You didn’t mess up. You didn’t do it all wrong. This is what I wanted to say to you.
I used to beat myself up thinking I was such a failure. Now, I know that actually all of my mistakes are life lessons. There is no magical pill or diet or Instagram post that will change the past. So, I’m learning to stop running from my shame or fear and actually lean into and ask: what are you here to teach me today?
“To share weakness is to make yourself vulnerable, but to make yourself vulnerable is to show your power.” — Criss Jami
I had no choice. I was basically vulnerable at birth. You could say my life was a deep dive in survival.
I spent my childhood to scared to show I needed help. To say that my early childhood years were dysfunctional is an understatement. My dad abused me all the time. My mom was missing. At the age of 11, I was sent to a state orphanage. There, I was bullied by other kids. One day, I was held down and they cut off all my hair. I simply can’t explain how much that humiliated me. Yet, no one helped me at the orphanage. I decided to run away. Things only got worse until I started to look inside myself for a place to be vulnerable.
Some people called me street girl. They didn’t see my situation like I did. For them, they saw a girl making choices. They saw a girl who was being wild or not caring. Some tried to save me but never asked me actually what I wanted in my life. Very few saw my exploitation or hurt. I also tried to hide my pain because I thought they would just use that against me.
By the time that I was 12, I was an expert at stacking bricks around my heart. I acted like I trusted people but honestly I was just giving them enough of me to convince them to help me. I always had one foot out the door and that is emotional death. I just could not trust help. I did believe anyone would want to be there for me if they knew me. So, I just would run.
Do you run from person to person? Do think each new love interest you meet is the one to save you? I did. Love is beautiful and it’s addictive. Only, I gave off this vibe like I didn’t know how to take care of myself so I attracted people who wanted to use that to exploit me.
Only, here is real truth. If you can not be vulnerable, you can not receive love. Your heart and body will reject it as a means to protect itself. At least, it’s been that way for me.
Brene Brown says that “vulnerability is the birth place of innovation.” This might not make sense to you or even feel fair. I know that it hurts when you open up to someone and they used that against you later to take advantage or hurt you.
I am a survivor of slavery and violence. I can not remember how many times I was sold, often by boyfriends who I wanted to love me the way I felt no one did. I stacked up so many bricks that when I started to wonder what I wanted in life, they made it impossible for me to see that there could be joy in life or that my life even mattered. I did what many survivors of trauma or abuse do, I shut everyone out and learn to play tough in order to survive. That did keep me from literally not dying but it didn’t allow me to LIVE life.
Lean into that pain. It’s what helps you feel joy. Crazy right? It’s true.
Learn how to trust yourself. Like, you got this far, so you must have some strength and skills. You aren’t living in a forest alone like a lost animal or you would not be reading this blog. Also, if you are reading this blog, you must actually care about yourself enough to try to find a better path. So, see, you can trust. yourself.
Find that person you can open up to. Maybe start with even a support group online or even podcasts on self love are a start to getting yourself toward a place where you can trust. It also does not have to happen all at once. You don’t have to say everything. Watch how that person reacts and how you feel when you open up. Your body will tell you if it’s safe.
Learn from others. I read a lot. I look online and find podcasts and videos on healing from abuse or finding yourself after loss. If you are working or in school, you know that you have to learn skills and practice. So, that is the same thing with learning how to be vulnerable with yourself and others in a healthy way.
You can’t change your past. Yet, you can learn from it. What lessons did your pain teach you about your self and your ability to survive? You can write those down or even talk about it with a friend.
Vulnerability is your power if you use to connect with yourself and others. It’s not the same as weakness. It’s acknowledging your own boundaries and finding the courage to say who you really are now and where you want to be. We are survivors and that means we have the courage to seek our own freedom every single day.
Snezana Vukovic is an advocacy lab associate at Karana Rising as well as a photographer and survivor leader based in Belgrade, Serbia.
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