Updated: Aug 1, 2022
A wise woman once asked me a question. “How can you love without being vulnerable?” This question annoyed me, because I believed I loved many people deeply, but that didn’t mean I had to allow them into my heart. Oh, what an oxymoron that is! I was foolish enough to not even realize what I didn’t know. Life had stunted my growth in many ways, and I had a lot of learning to do.
Many of us have been hurt in life and in love. For me, the hurts began early on… being a child from a broken home, dealing with substance abuse in my family, and experiencing sexual abuse left me full of emotion that I didn’t know how to process. My way of coping was stuffing it way down deep, locking it in the fortress of my heart, and throwing away the key. I pushed forward with a fake smile, seeking achievement, and choosing to ignore the pain. If I don’t acknowledge it exists, then it really can’t still be there, right? Wrong.
At 24, after two years of marriage, I divorced my first husband. The ache of divorce and my partner’s infidelities had encouraged me to build a large addition to that fortress around my heart so I could store more hurts. The choice to love or connect again seemed daunting. It felt safer to hide my emotions and heart behind those fortified walls of the new wing I had added.
As life continued, my heart fortress had become very full, and no more wings could be added. There simply wasn’t any more room. I had filled every addition I had built with hurts, pain, anger, resentment, and lots of fear. I imagine it looked like the home of a hoarder, full of trash and undesirables that people on the outside wonder, “Why are they holding on to all that junk?” But I just couldn’t let it go. I didn’t know how. It was scary to consider tearing down those walls and looking at all the items I had collected. It was painful to revisit and overwhelming to decide what was worthy of keeping and what to throw away.
I lived most of my life in that fortress. I did meet a wonderful man and remarried. He understood my history, the walls I built, how sturdy they were, and how he was not allowed in. But understanding something doesn’t mean you approve of it or even like it. Because you see, he didn’t have a fortress around his heart. He chose to let me in. He chose to love and connect. And it was something I struggled to do in return. I wanted to, but I truly did not know how. It was scary and uncomfortable, and my heart would race just thinking about it.
In 2014, my marriage was in a dark place. My husband was exhausted with trying to connect with me on a deeper level, and I was struggling with how to give him what he needed. I loved him so much, and I didn’t understand how he couldn’t see that. I cooked, cleaned, worked full time, took care of our children. I did everything a wife is supposed to do. What more did he need from me? I didn’t understand that what he was needing was vulnerability.
I shared with a trusted friend my dilemma and my friend told me about Discovery Programs in Austin, Texas. I remember thinking to myself, “Not another personal development training.” Fortunately for me, my friend was persistent, and was able to pique my curiosity enough that I signed up for D1 Base Camp. It was in D1 Base Camp, that for the first time in my life, I began taking inventory of what I had collected in that fortress.
As I continued through the program, I began to sort through the contents and take some of the trash out. It was baby steps, but progress, nonetheless. Eventually, I decided some of those wings I built were no longer necessary. They were empty. So, they came down. One by one, they were dismantled until only the exterior walls of the fortress remained.
Over time, my husband noticed a difference in me. He felt me connecting with him on a deeper level. He was slowly gaining access to parts of my heart that he had never been allowed to travel into. He became so inspired, that he decided to attend Discovery. And after he completed the core program, we attended the Relationship program together.
It’s been many years since we have been through the Discovery program, and brick by brick, my fortress has been removed. It’s no longer even a fortress. It feels more like an old English cobblestone garden wall that surrounds a courtyard. The courtyard has been emptied of all the trash and in its place, there are multiple gardens: the garden of peace, the garden of joy, the garden of grace, the garden of love, the garden of faith, the garden of hope, and most importantly the garden of forgiveness. I’ve learned to allow my husband to freely enjoy those gardens and see and experience all of me and my heart. I’ve learned to truly love is to be vulnerable.
Thank you to that wise woman, T.S. This rose is for you beautiful lady.
- Natalie Johns