Nobody wants to feel vulnerable. It’s hard to show others the chinks in our armor. In fact, it can even be quite difficult to admit the existence of these chinks to ourselves. But addiction recovery is an emotional experience. If we don’t process these emotions in a healthy manner, we just might relapse to escape from them. This is why we need to embrace our vulnerability if we wish to stay sober. And while it may sound strange, expressing our vulnerability is how we best demonstrate our true strength.
Strength isn’t about pretending that we aren’t afraid. It’s not about pretending that we’re perfect or that we never have any concerns. There’s a saying that you can’t show courage if you don’t know fear. The same is true of strength and vulnerability. We have to know our weaknesses if we expect to overcome them. And since one of our primary weaknesses in addiction is denial, we should start by focusing our efforts on acceptance. Not just acceptance of our substance abuse problem, but of our other character defects as well. Once we remove the mask of denial and accept ourselves as we are, we enable ourselves to discover our true strength of character.
Below, we’ll discuss the nature of vulnerability and why it’s actually a positive force in our lives. This is something that applies not only to recovering addicts and alcoholics, but to their loved ones as well. We all feel weak from time to time. The secret is learning that we don’t need to beat ourselves up for it. Instead, we should channel these feelings into something greater. But before we get to that, let’s discuss more fully the dangers we might face if we attempt to hide our vulnerability behind a mask of false bravado.
The Dangers of Hiding
Hiding our vulnerability often makes it worse. When we convince ourselves that weakness must be hidden, we reinforce the idea that any vulnerability on our part should be met with shame. By accepting this false premise, we trap ourselves in a vicious cycle wherein we feel bad about ourselves any time we experience even a single moment of weakness. We then beat ourselves up for this weakness, in the end making ourselves feel even weaker. It doesn’t matter if we intuitively know that human beings are defective. We hold ourselves to a higher standard.
When we torture ourselves over any feeling of vulnerability, we convince ourselves that we are bad or lesser people. As a result, we often spend our time in isolation. Perhaps we don’t think anyone would care if we told them about our problems. Or in many cases, we may simply believe that no one would want to be around us. This type of thinking leads to emotional disturbance, and it isn’t long before we find ourselves in the middle of a relapse. We either turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of escape, or we use codependency to make ourselves feel stronger. Whichever method we use to hide our vulnerability, the end result is usually far from desirable.
Part of the reason these methods of escapism often fail to alleviate our vulnerability is because these behaviors play a direct role in the development of our shortcomings. Our weaknesses point to the areas in which we need to grow as people. When we ignore them, our personal issues remain unchecked. Furthermore, substance abuse and codependency are often signs of vulnerability in and of themselves. This doesn’t mean that we should be ashamed of being addicts or codependents. But we need to recognize what we are before we can begin working to change it. Hiding from our weaknesses only delays the healing process.
To recap, pretending to have no weaknesses can result in isolation and stunted spiritual growth, which may in turn lead to relapse. With so much at stake, we can embrace denial no longer. It’s time to move forward and embrace acceptance instead. Because when we accept our vulnerability, we discover a new strength. And, as you may have guessed from our discussion of isolation, we largely find this strength through others.
Strength Through Support
When we have trouble tapping into our own strength, we must rely on others to help bring it out of us. We can’t recover in isolation, which means that we need an expansive support network at our disposal. This support network includes family, friends, and people we meet in our treatment community. These people see us more objectively than we see ourselves, which means they see both our strengths and weaknesses. And this means that we don’t need to hide our vulnerability from them, because they already know about it. Depending upon the strength of our denial, they might even have known about our weaknesses before we ever truly recognized them.
It shouldn’t scare us that people can see our weaknesses. Think about it this way—if others can look at us more objectively, then this means that they know how our shortcomings may be overcome. They can help guide us, giving us counsel when we need it the most. The one thing they can’t do is solve all of our problems for us. But even sheer moral support helps us get there. Because it’s that feeling of loneliness and isolation that so often stands in our way. Just knowing that we have people on our side can help make life seem a lot easier.
There are some instances in which we truly do need help to solve a problem. Perhaps we need to take out a loan, or we need a place to stay for a night or two. As long as we don’t take this for granted, we may ask for help. The key here is not to fall into debt or overstay our welcome. We must keep our end of the bargain. This establishes honesty and accountability. Upon seeing these traits in ourselves, we find that we truly are good people. We don’t need to beat ourselves up or feel weak over our vulnerability, provided that we demonstrate our true strength of character when the time comes.
Regardless of whether others lift us up or simply help us to do it ourselves, a strong support network enables us to see strength in ourselves. It takes a lot of humility to confess our vulnerability to others. The return, however, is wonderful. And there are a few ways in which we can make this necessary confession. As we’ll discuss below, the manner in which we embrace our vulnerability depends largely upon the situation at hand.
First of all, it’s worth noting that there are some people from whom we must never hide our vulnerability. Chief among these individuals is our sponsor. They need to know when we’re struggling with our weaknesses or character defects. In fact, there’s really no point in getting a sponsor at all if we don’t intend to share these things with them. This is the person to whom we’re supposed to turn when we feel at our lowest. They can’t help us stay sober if they don’t know that our recovery is shaky in the first place. Others we lean upon frequently, such as family or close friends, should also be kept in the loop.
When expressing our vulnerability to these people, we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves. We don’t need to have a full emotional breakdown. Also remember that you shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for letting them in. People who care about us would generally prefer that we address our problems rather than bottling them up. They need to be able to trust us. But for them to do that, we need to show them that their trust is returned in kind. We demonstrate our trust by telling them when we’re fearful, angry or depressed. Nobody wins points by pretending to be perfect. If anything, presenting the false appearance of perfection only makes us look prideful. This turns people away, and our support network becomes diminished as a result.
We also need to embrace vulnerability for our own sake. It isn’t all about receiving support from others. We must understand our own problems so that we can work on them. It’s irrelevant whether this work takes the form of meditation, positive affirmations, or service work. Our weaknesses don’t define us. Rather, what defines us is the work we do to overcome them. It is in performing this work that we are at our best. We must never forget the importance of vulnerability, if for no other reason than that our weaknesses inspire us to invoke these demonstrations of strength and good will.
Never forget that weakness is not a four-letter word. There’s no stigma against accepting your shortcomings, especially if you seek to overcome them to the best of your ability. Every human being falls short of perfection, no matter how hard they may try to achieve it. To despise our vulnerability is to hate ourselves for our own humanity. Never let anyone make you feel sub-par for your weaknesses. More importantly, never let your own thinking do this to you. When you embrace who you are, you enable yourself to be there more fully for yourself and those about whom you care the most. And when you take the front seat in this fashion, you’ll eventually realize just how much strength you truly possess.