Early this month, an innocuous enough question from someone I respect set in motion an unraveling.
At the time, I didn’t realize it for what it was. It wasn’t, after all, delivered with a written announcement: “Congratulations! Your unraveling has officially begun!”
Rather, the question sat with me as I read and reflected early the next morning. I mulled it over as I wondered how it applied to other facets of my life, past and present. The question was prominent in my heart when I then read a Daring Greatly passage I’ve read many times before without once truly understanding it.
Finally, I understood, exclaiming, “Oh. Oh!” before weeping at words I’d only just come to know in my bones.
Since I first read all Brené Brown’s books a couple years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time doing what Brown calls “rumbling.”
As Brown explains the concept in Dare to Lead, a rumble is—among other things—“a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, [and] to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving.” While there’s more to her definition, this is the part that applies to rumbling with myself.
A week and a half (and so, so very much rumbling) after being asked that seemingly innocuous question, I found myself thinking, “Man, this is just not like my other rumbles. What is even happening here? What am I missing? What else am I supposed to be learning in this rumble?”
Something about the way I framed these questions nudged me toward the answer. Wait, I wondered, Is this my midlife unraveling in process? Is this what Brown was writing about?!
I googled “brene brown midlife unraveling” and found this post. With every word I read, I grew lighter of heart:
At long last, the set of patterned responses I’d always thought was me was unraveling,
opening the possibility of my becoming truly me.
The sense of possibility was thrilling, for about a half a day. I was finally clearing out the crap, hurrah! After it was cleared, the sky would be the limit!
Anything at all was possible …
What looks like a universe of possibilities from one angle looks—and feels—very much like an absence of anything whatsoever to hold on to, from many other angles.
The last couple of weeks, I have been doing the best I can. I have been living in simultaneous gratitude for much possibility and exhaustion from attempting to navigate the world without all my old
I’ve been reading furiously and trying to find short-term fixes to get me through to long-term mendings. I’ve plucked potential answers from the ether, crossed my fingers, and plowed forth as best I could.
Once or twice so far, this has worked out okay from the get-go. The rest of the time, it’s worked out not so great—which, thankfully, is itself useful: “Welp, I still don’t know what the answer is, but I know it’s definitely not that!”
This is, how do you say? Oh, yes:
One of my many recent rumblings has been about boundaries.
What’s OK with me? What’s not OK with me? How do I identify this with clarity such that I can communicate it early, and kindly?
Growing up in profound, sustained violence, I honestly wasn’t aware such things as “boundaries” existed. Even when, late into college, I did start interacting with people who did this super-puzzling thing where they asked me what I thought and then actually acted in ways that showed they genuinely heard me, I had no idea what I was experiencing.
What was it they did that was so weird and wonderful? What was this thing where they treated me like … I was worthy, even when I disagreed with them? Like I was worthy, period?
As I rumble with boundaries as part of this simultaneous unraveling and building-anew, analogies are especially useful tools. I’m trying on and discarding instructional analogies several times daily, seeing what rings true to me heart-wise and discarding the rest.
Unfortunately, sometimes analogies that feel really spot-on one moment fall apart the next.
Fortunately, from a perspective of leaning into discomfort, there really is something to learn in it all.
Middle of last week, I both locked in and acted upon a not-quite-right analogy. While I owe some related apologies, I’m not beating myself up. I very much needed to meander through that analogy to find the one that really worked.
The one that made me go, “Oh. Oh!” and feel an overwhelming sense of resonance-imbued relief:
In my analogy, I’d found a foundation on which I could build,
the possibility from which so many others may flow.
When I first read Brown’s insights on the midlife unraveling, it all sounded like a horror story to me. While some part of me was clear that she didn’t mean it as only a horror story, the non-horror elements simply did not register for me.
Now, I think upon that innocuous early October question that helped really kick off my midlife unraveling and am profoundly grateful.
This is hard, and it is harrowing, but it is not a horror story;
it is a story of wonder, and curiosity, and courage;
it is a story of faith, and exploration;
it is a leaning into possibilities, and
deciding which ones are worth
trying to transform