I wrote my first blog post in June 1995. From the very first email response I received, I was hooked. I’d been heard! That could actually happen: I could be heard.
Online, I could
be appear more than the broken teenager I was offline.
That was so powerful. Unfortunately, it was also setup for a lot of unhealthy behaviors.
A couple months ago, I fully and finally saw just how unhealthy my relationship with blogging had become. I deleted my existing blogs and began learning how to simply sit with myself, my thoughts, and my feelings. This, too, was powerful.
At first, it was only painful. It might have remained that way, but for one thing: In this quiet place, I found the works of vulnerability and shame researcher Brené Brown.
A friend had recommended Brown’s Daring Greatly several years ago. I’d bought a copy, read the preface, and … didn’t relate at all. As far as I was then concerned, I was already daring greatly.
About a month ago, my primary care provider recommended Brown’s Netflix special. I said I’d consider checking it out. I thought, Yeah, I already tried Brown. Not my thing. In fact, I just sold back my copy of her book a couple weeks ago!
On a whim, I did end up starting Brown’s special. Within moments, I was transfixed–laughing, choking back tears, and celebrating the fact Brown’s out there doing what she’s doing.
I wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing that was so foreign and new, but that was okay. I was just glad she was doing it.
Since then, I’ve discovered Daring Greatly was only one of Brown’s books. I’ve read all save one of them, and am halfway through the last–her latest, Dare to Lead.
I didn’t intend to ever again have any kind of personal site, but I’m inspired by Brown. What I do today doesn’t have to be like what I did yesterday. In fact, it couldn’t be, with all I’ve recently learned from Brown and my many other teachers, both global and local.
Before reading Brown, I didn’t have a name for the defining emotion of my life. I didn’t even know it as an emotion; it was simply my baseline state as far back as I could remember.
Now, thanks to Brown, I have a name for it. It loses more of its power each time I name it: shame.
My childhood home was filled with trauma. Specifically, of the ten adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) studied by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, I experienced eight. As explained at ACES Too High, experiencing even one ACE can adversely impact a person’s lifelong health. People who experience four or more are at massively increased risks of poor health outcomes.
As the oldest of four in my trauma-filled childhood home, I was often implicitly and explicitly made responsible for outcomes over which I had no control. For decades, I’ve slowly, quietly buckled under the weight of having failed to control them, not understanding–until very recently–that:
- I could never have controlled them.
- I should never have been expected to control them.
- What I’d incorrectly perceived as personal failure wasn’t that at all. Even so, my decades of perceiving thusly had instilled profound fear and shame in me–feelings I could feel, even through various efforts to numb them, and even without being able to name them.
- Healthy interpersonal relationships couldn’t possibly flow from feeling responsible for everything around me.
Why share any of this, as a professional interested in–finally!–creating a professional presence online? What does this have to do with Brown’s work, and my own?
In short, everything.
I can only be my best self at work when I’m able to bring my full self to work. My full self is one who’s both experienced profound trauma and managed to build a loving (albeit messy!) home along with a successful software licensing career.
(If you fell asleep even reading the words “software licensing career,” I hear you. But I love what I do, about which you’ll hear more later!)
Trying to pretend the trauma part of my life was past, a dragon I’d already battled and slain versus one I continued to spend half my energy fighting daily, wasn’t kind to myself or those around me.
These days, inspired by Brown, I find I’d like to spend less time, energy, and self fighting old dragons and much more instead practicing vulnerability, empathy, and kindness–all the things that can’t be practiced while also actively fighting dragons.
My dragons are what they are. I’m no longer interested in slaying them. In fact, the very idea I had to slay them was what kept me stuck in battle for 99.9% of my life so far.
When I stopped fighting my dragons and learned to begin instead offering them a kind ear, they stopped fighting back (!!!).
Having read Brown, I see this as critically important to not only understand but to share with others–as a human being, a parent, a wife, a mom, a community member and, yes, a software licensing professional.
Because something else I’ve learned from studying ACEs is that most people have at least one. This isn’t “most people in certain demographics.” This is most people. Indeed, as summed up by ACES Too High, the “17,000 ACE Study participants were mostly white, middle- and upper-middle class, college-educated, and all had jobs and great health care (they were all members of Kaiser Permanente).” Further,
ACEs are responsible for a big chunk of workplace absenteeism, and for costs in health care, emergency response, mental health and criminal justice. So, the fifth finding from the ACE Study is that childhood adversity contributes to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.
As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris explains in her poignant book The Deepest Well, the toxic stress of ACEs isn’t something one simply gets over. It quite literally rewires a person’s brain and body in countless ways that can and do endure for a lifetime.
For all the decades I felt alone, I never actually was. That’s both healing and tragic to understand.
See, all around me, people have been putting on their biggest, bravest smiles while themselves fighting dragons–those they met in childhood, and/or those they encountered later. Not one person, I now see, isn’t fighting some dragon or another, no matter how bright their smiles. Not one person is free from struggle. Not seeing that we’re all up against dragons made the world feel so much lonelier and the fight so much bigger.
So while you won’t find me talking about fighting dragons most days in this space, it’s not because there aren’t dragons. My many dragons are still with me, and will be for the long haul.
I’m okay with this. They make the journey interesting.
More than being quietly okay with my having-ness of dragons, I want to be vocally okay with it. I want the freedom that comes with honesty with myself about how fighting my dragons has shaped me. I want, too, to be part of a world that doesn’t hide dragon-fighting underneath pictures of filtered highlights on Instagram.
These days, I’m moving toward grappling more with ambiguous licensing terms (woe!) than with dragons. But I’ve fought dragons, and have been fundamentally shaped by my decades of fighting.
Seeing others face their dragons with empathy has inspired me, deeply. They have made the world feel so much lonely. I aspire to be like them.
With this post, I take one small step to bridge the gap between my aspiration and my actual. If it’s uncomfortable for some, that’s okay. I’m no longer embarrassed by, ashamed of, or afraid of my dragons.
Indeed, the possibility that even one person could read this and find the courage to consider facing their own dragons moves me. Mightily.
So, here I am: Deborah L. Robinson, retired dragon fighter. Active friend to my dragons. Worker of software licensing magics.
I don’t know what’s ahead, for this space or otherwise. That’s okay.
Today, I walk with dragons, and, for today, that’s enough.