Letter From My 48th Year (Jan 20)
Just back from the first read for Forum Theatre’s production of Nat Turner in Jerusalem by Nathan Alan Davis. Just hearing two extraordinarily talented actors reading an extraordinarily well written script was transformative. And it’s only going to get better once the director and designers layer on their vision. I am quite excited to see it up on its feet. I wish it wasn’t time for me to start getting ready for bed because it’s the kind of work that’s so good you want to come home and work on your own projects. Instead I’m going to de-fuschia my lips, hang out in the shower luxuriating in the hot water for far too long, and then slather myself in coconut oil so I smell good when Jon Hamm shows up in my dreams. (One of these things may not actually happen.)
But that’s enough about me. Mostly tonight I wanted to share this response from Jason V. to this blog post I wrote about vulnerability. (Rumor has it he and Andrea O. are starting a blog soon and I’m soooooo here for it and I’ll make sure to share the news when it happens. Did you see that Andrea and Jason—I said “when” not “if.” I’m just saying….)
So without further ado, here’s Jason…
I want to take care of you but you first have to let me.
I’ve always found this to be one of the most difficult parts of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. The part where you love someone, and you need them, and you need things from them… emotional and physical and maybe even financial things… but you can’t bring yourself to let them help you. Whether it is a conscious decision/choice you’re making or something in the back of your mind and heart that prevents you from accepting help… you just can’t bring yourself to let them help you.
It’s a scary concept – the idea of needingsomeone. You feel vulnerable. You feel helpless at times. You feel as if you should have it together enough to never need anyone in these ways, no matter who it is. This becomes more pronounced the older we get. Accepting help is a very big deal for many of us. Especially those of us who carry forth certain (often very toxic) personality traits. Traits like pride. Ego. Guilt. Shame. Low self-worth. These characteristics tend to work to our own detriment, especially when we really need the help of a friend. We’ll hide the need for help. Even when we accept the help, we’ll hide the fact of that too. Or we’ll resent the person offering the help, like it’s somehow his or her fault that we need it!
And what can easily happen is we don’t accept the help we desperately need. Usually for reasons that are so unimportant to our overall health. We reject people who love us and want to see us do well and genuinely want to help us for… well, for what exactly? What does accepting help we need do to us or make us feel that we so often reject and avoid it?
It can make us feel weak. Weak in the eyes of others and in our own eyes as well. No one wants to appear weak to the outside world or to the people they care about. So we’ll reject help to prove our own strength except… the need for the help is still there. It hasn’t gone anywhere so in reality we’re no stronger than we were before we rejected the help.
It can make us feel like failures. Like because we don’t have enough money to pay the rent this month, we’re failed providers. Like because we need someone to put together our resume for us, we’re failed professionals. Like because we’re single parents and need someone to stay with our kids one night, we’re failed parents.
It can make us feel ashamed. Ashamed at ourselves for taking from someone else. Ashamed of ourselves for falling our household or spouse or child.
I’ve refused help I needed because I thought it proved my strength. When I went through a divorce there were friends and family who reached out, genuinely, to offer money or advice or just an ear. For many reasons I rejected most of their offers. I told myself it was because they wouldn’t understand my situation or because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my problems. That was partially true but the bigger truth was I was afraid to look and appear weak. Afraid to look like I couldn’t handle it. Even though the truth was just that – I couldn’t handle it all alone. And I shouldn’t have handled it alone. Even though I wanted to. Even though I tried to.
I didn’t realize it at the time but this refusal to take help I needed had become a personality trait of mine as an adult. As a man, I was always taught to be the rock – to be the backbone. Men are tough and don’t cry. Men stand on their own two feet and don’t ever need or ask for help. In my household, a man is not allowed to need help because if you do it means you’ve failed to do your job as a provider or protector. That was my mentality and it made tough situations even tougher because when I needed money or advice I wouldn’t seek it or accept it. And when I divorced and took on twin 5 year olds basically by myself… I needed help. Help that I didn’t know how to ask for because I’d never really asked for it before. Help with money, going from two incomes to one. Help with childcare so I could get some rest. Help with coping with the loss and help with coaching my children through it too. What’s worse, I had plenty of good people around me, friends and family, who were willing, able and wanting to help me.
I had to change that. And honestly, I only realized this after I felt I was hurting my children. I felt like I was letting pride and ego keep them from receiving help we all needed. I was prioritizing my own feelings over their well being. After I realized that, accepting help became a lot easier. I told myself “this is what’s best for the kids.” And maybe it was a sell job – maybe I was telling myself what I needed to hear to accept the help we needed. But it did allow me to be able to receive things that I needed at the time and that I wouldn’t have accept otherwise.
I learned from that to prioritize what was most important – our overall mental and emotional health and well being – instead of prioritizing my feelings and hangups. Admittedly, this is a lot easier to do when it involves my kids than when it’s me alone. I still have trouble identifying the times when I need help, which makes it more difficult to accept it. I still have a hard time saying the words “yes, I need you.” I still have a hard time accepting that I can’t, or shouldn’t, do everything alone. That whether or not I’m capable of doing it all alone is not nearly as important as doing what’s best for me and my kids.
But I’m getting better.