Guilt and Vulnerability

So I’m watching Brené Brown’s new Netflix original, The Call to Courage. I’m laughing and I’m crying. I’m saying “yes!” out loud to her like we’re having a conversation in my living room. I’m pausing it to take some notes and to look up this quote by Teddy Roosevelt. I even clapped with her myself on my couch. She inspires me every time I watch one of her talks. But this one inspired me to gather up some of my own courage.

If you’re not familiar with Brené Brown, she researches and talks about courage, fear, vulnerability and shame. My mom spent the last year and a half of her life being vulnerable. As vulnerable as humanly possible - physically, mentally, emotionally. Vulnerable as fuck. For the most part, people were kind and caring and thoughtful. But there were a few who treated her like she was a burden. I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to witness her vulnerability. It made me feel helpless, and sad, and guilty. So much guilt.

There has been nothing short of 80,000,001 what-ifs since my mom’s first stroke. What if I would’ve woke her up that morning when I dropped watermelon off, quietly put it in her fridge and left her apartment while she was sleeping on her recliner. What if I would’ve decided to go check on her earlier that day when he wan’t answering my calls or texts. What if I would’ve MADE her get eat healthier, get more exercise...the list goes on and on. And then stroke number two happened. What if I did something wrong with her medications? What if I could’ve prevented this from happening? What if I were more patient with her? What if...what if. WHAT the FRICK IF?!

The what-ifs will EAT YOU ALIVE. They’re why, even after my mom left this earth, I’ve had sleepless and anxiety-ridden nights. I’ve been struggling over the past month trying to figure out how to deal with the guilt and how to change my focus from the negative things that have happened to happy, loving, empowering thoughts. Instead of happy memories, I picture my mom when I found her after she had the stroke. I remember how hard it was when she was living here after that first stroke. I remember how confused she had been these last 8 or 9 months. I think about how scared and lonely she must have felt. Why?! Why do we torture ourselves?

I talked a little about this with my Pastor when we were planning my mom’s memorial service. He reminded me that God is there to share these burdens and even carry them for us. I tested this theory. When I can’t get these thoughts out of my head, I talk to God and I picture myself lifting those worries, the guilt, the sadness up to Him and placing them in His hands. And you know something, I feel a weight lifted when I do that. There’s something about the visualization. My heart rate goes down, breathing gets easier and I can finally get some sleep.     

Brené Brown starts her mornings by saying, “Today, I choose courage over comfort.” She defines courage as being vulnerable. This is hard, for sure. It IS uncomfortable. But I think part of the process of releasing guilt, of healing and of moving forward is to share our vulnerability. Writing it down or speaking it out loud helps. It’s courageous because there’s a level of fear - or shame - or humility - when we let others into our heads and into our hearts. But that fear is only there until it’s not. We’re afraid, not of what’s going to happen, but how it will make us feel. Remembering the worst times makes me crazy. Talking about it releases the crazy and the fear - and makes room for better things. It makes room for the happy memories, room for peace and room for love. Like Brené, I will continue to choose courage over comfort. Peace over guilt. And love over fear.