I was raised to put my head down and soldier on during tough times and was told never to be vulnerable because being so meant I was weak.

It’s hard to say whether these were intended life lessons, but deep down, that is what I interpreted the messages to be from people who had influenced me in my life. I carried these messages with me throughout my life, like suits of armour protecting me from dragons or invisible adversaries, clearly ready to strike when I least expected it.

Every time I unbuckled the armour and reveal my raw tender skin to what I thought vulnerability looked like, it was just a matter of time before I was left disappointed, brokenhearted, and/or worse yet, full of self-hate, shame and invisible bruises.

Thinking back on memories of (what I thought was) genuine romantic relationships, I’m reminded of a time when I fell madly in love with a man, close to 9 years older than me. You know, the type of love where you don’t hold back, lead with your heart (not your brain) and are brave.

Regretably, I later discovered that he was leading a double life, and not in the way that I’d have been proud of (Jason Bourne kinda thing). He would be on an “all-men’s trips”, only for me to find out later, that he was not with his bros, but his other woman. There were weekends that his kids were with us, and I’d be with them, and he was out with the other woman.

He was tall, very handsome and intelligent, he was charming and I was smitten. Year after year, his every step looked so familiar. After discovering his double life, I thought to myself, everything looked so familiar because I’ve witnessed it happen to my mother. I had chosen my father as a partner. You see, my father cheated on my mother multiple times and until this very day, he is in denial of it. Just like my ex is. So, in retrospect, I chose my father. I chose to let my guards down to a narcissistic person and that was on me. I chose to stay even when things were bad, just like my mother did.

I chose this person to be “the love of my life”. I chose to be vulnerable with him, and he took advantage of it. However, what I learned through this experience is that I’m not a victim, but a survivor. I can change the narative. I can be vulnerable and yet, be more assertive and there’s nothing wrong in that. For 9 years, I lost myself while feeling so much for this person and I won’t let that happen again. I never let myself feel vulnerable again.

Over the last few years, it’s been more a slow sunrise. On days when I felt I could trust the person I was connecting with and felt brave, I was able to let them in, even for a brief moment. When I felt my weakest, when I felt I couldn’t move forward, I swallowed my pride, let my guards down – yet again, and found the courage to ask for help from those close to me. I was overwhelmed with encouragement, support, and the many times people tell me how I was an inspiration. I didn’t think that by being vulnerable could be an inspiration to some people.

During this year of major change and transition, I’m proud to say that I haven’t felt the need to put my armour back on. Being open to vulnerability has allowed me to connect with friends on a new level, and embrace life lessons that I wouldn’t have learned previously.

By being vulnerable, I realise I’m opening myself up to a deeper, more meaningful relationships. I’m also developing a calmer sense in my life that allows me to embrace a new level of happiness that I never felt before.

Looking back to who I was in the past and who I am today – the difference is very significance. I was someone who didn’t want to surrender the drama, didn’t want to stop, resisted to embrace that my dysfunctional ways led to the chaos in my life – have given me courage to give in and embrace what I feared the most after letting go of the drama that I created.

Strength isn’t about fighting; sometimes it’s about letting go. Having the courage to be vulnerable, even when it feels insurmountable, is the first step on the journey to a wholehearted life.

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