Advocates, nonprofits, those in the helping fields, WE have to do better for those who break themselves open with us. WE have to take better care of their vulnerability.
Recently a friend of mine went to see about volunteering. She went in with anxiety, because she has been holding some parts of herself back for awhile now. The parts that people have taken advantage of and put her down for, the parts that told others she has been human before as if we aren’t human all the time. The irony is that none of these parts of her life make her less or were even her willing choice, because they were the parts that were done against her will by someone who was too broken to understand the pain they were inflicting. And because he was broken, he had this need to break her as well. Anything but luckily, she pulled herself together, aggrandizing her shattered soul with gold and growing immensely.
I’ve been fortunate to be deemed safe by her and she has told me the struggles she’s had. I find a lot of people opening up to me these days, in all honesty, they always have. She’s wanted to get involved for sometime now, but fear of judgement kept her held back. Until last week, when she finally found the courage to go to a nonprofit and look for the opportunity to volunteer. I can only imagine how her heart pounded as she walked through the doors. I know her mind had to have been racing with thoughts and fears. She was probably struggling at the thought of what she would say. But she did it, she walked in and she spoke to the volunteer coordinator and offered her time and energy with the hopes of learning, and helping others who may be now where she once was.
And while she stood there, it came out. Probably unintentionally, probably against her will in many ways, but in a brief sentence, she admitted one of the most traumatizing experiences of her life to a complete stranger, because she felt this person, this helper, should be safe. If not this person, than who? Within a stark sentence stood her pain, fears, perceived weaknesses, memories, horrors, and most of all the deepest part of her that needed comfort. The part of her that deserved appreciation and reassurance.
The problem arises in that this volunteer coordinator didn’t really know her. They didn’t know that this was one of a handful of times that she has opened up to anyone. They didn’t realize the struggle that came before saying those words. They probably wouldn’t have understood most of that because if you see this woman, you see a strong, confident, put together woman. You don’t see the societal assumption of how a “survivor” should appear. So little to nothing was said in that moment, when even the smallest acknowledgement would have done so much.
The days following have brought her a great deal of pain. These days have been wracked with thoughts like, “I really think it may be because I told her my past. It’s fucking with my head. And this has just made me depressed, I think. I literally started questioning my worth and if I was good enough to volunteer. That’s what went through my head. Like she views me as broken now.” Because as hard as it was to open up, it’s been even harder to not get a response. It’s been even more trying to offer to help, and not know whether or not she will be given that chance. Her heart is aching, and it hurts me deeply.
And many of you know me by now, sometimes I just have to say something because it needs saying.
To the Volunteer Coordinator, I know you encounter a lot of people who have been through things and maybe you didn’t even think about it when she told you. Maybe you were just hearing another story. I doubt this, at least I need to doubt this because if it was just another story to you, you should look within yourself at why you are where you are right now in life. For yourself. More likely, you were swamped and had a horrible day. Maybe the world is swarming around you and you can’t see outside of the stress you most likely endure on a daily basis. I get that, I do. This isn’t at all about blame. This is about trying to better us all, because people are scared to trust. We have to earn it everyday with them or nothing in this world will improve and fewer people will find healing.
My friend told me she wanted you to know one thing and that was, “I wish she could understand the thoughts that would go through someone’s head when they put themselves in a vulnerable position by being honest.”
To My Friend, I’m proud of what you’ve done. You’re feeling vulnerable and it’s igniting traumatic emotions because of it and because you opened up. But remember this, you stood up, you walked into that door and you broke yourself open not knowing how it would be received. You did this because you wanted to help others. You wanted to do something for someone who might be where you once were. Wow. If only more of this world functioned like that. If only more of us risked our security in order to give to others, even in some small way.
Now, listen don’t get in your head and screw your progress up because one person didn’t realize that in that moment you needed them to look you in the eyes and humbly and graciously step into the space you opened for them. Don’t allow this one instance to keep you from fucking kicking ass, because that is exactly what you are doing. You are not limited by any experiences you have endured. You are not less than. You are not broken or weak or unworthy. You are strong and capable and immensely valuable BECAUSE you have not only endured, but you have overcome.
Don’t stop opening up to people. It helps with healing and building trust. I know she’s messed with you without even realizing it. But don’t let this affect you, because it isn’t you. I promise it isn’t you. I know you don’t 100% believe that, but I do. And it bears repeating, IT ISN’T YOU.
On behalf of the Volunteer Coordinator to you, Thank you for telling her that, I know how difficult it was and I’m honored that you felt comfortable enough to tell her something so hellish and painful. It wasn’t your fault that you lived through it, but remember you did live through it.
And finally remember this moment, Always, because someone one day will tell you something and need that validation and I sure hope you take the minute to give it to them.