The other day I had to take my dog, The Duchess, to the vet for a sore on her paw. The vet told me she had an infected boil or "furuncle" and gave me some medicine for her. The sight of the infected furuncle and the name itself grossed me out to such a degree that I immediately started looking for words grosser than furuncle. Why would I do that? I'm not sure, but I did.
Like many other people (I think) I retch at the words moist, schmear, shunt and pustule. I was looking for more, even grosser words when I stumbled upon this absolutely amazing paragraph on the internet. "A gross word investigator, Nico Lang, when looking for the most repulsive English sentence (with the help of the public and some intense web-related research) came up with this winner: 'While still in my panties, I vomited from my jowls a chunky curd of phlegm that was dripping with roaches, maggots and mucus and gurgled a moist egg yolk while I blogged about it.’ ”
Bravo Nico, simply bravo! And I'm very curious how one gets that "gross word investigator" job. I might be interested in applying.
So if anyone is still reading, let's move on. All of the above gross words make me queasy, but in my humble opinion the two grossest words in the English language, the ones that make my hackles rise and my fur puff up are these two doozies...intimate and vulnerable. Even writing them makes me feel like I need a furiously hot sanitizing shower, immediately. Let's start with intimate.
closely acquainted; familiar, close. "intimate friends"
A very close friend.
"His circle of intimates”
Here are some of the Merriam-Webster approved synonyms for intimate. Familiar, personal, private, secret, innermost. All words that make me cringe. I was raised to NOT trust people and I have a hard time doing that to this day. I think distrust of others is easy to learn and hard to unlearn. I am not really that interested in getting to know myself or anyone else intimately. "What's the goddamn point of that?" as my father might say. It's scary to trust others. I think I’m afraid of what’s lurking in my mind but also in theirs. I don't want anyone knowing my secrets and I sure as hell don't want to carry theirs.
When my husband and I had only been dating for a few months, we were invited to spend the weekend with some of his college friends. We had a nice few days out at the beach and of course afterwards everyone just had to give him their opinions of me. "She's lovely" one of them offered "but a tightly closed book”.
I think that was meant as an insult but I took it as a welcome compliment. Of course I'm a closed book; that had been my life's work up to that point. Why would I be anything else? A closed book feels contained, safe, protected, private. I won't open up and share my messy human-ness with you and please don't share yours with me.
Now on to vulnerable. I didn't really think it could possibly be worse than intimate...but I see that it just might be.
susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm. "We were in a vulnerable position."
Synonyms: In danger. In peril. At risk. Endangered. And the worst of all...exposed. What could be worse? Those synonyms are so bad that I had to Google "nice or gentle synonyms for the word vulnerable" as the few listed above are too unpleasant. I guess Mr. Google didn't really understand my question because what I got back was naked, sitting duck, and my personal favorite, "sucker”.
So imagine my horror at hearing the words intimate and vulnerable over and over again at A.A. meetings during my first few months of early sobriety. I was suddenly terrifed of everything and everyone the first 90 days without my beloved booze, my flimsy Dutch courage, and therefore couldn't muster the cojones to ask people to stop using those words in my presence. To stop telling me, ad nauseam, that there is amazing strength and profound healing to be experienced in learning how to be intimate and vulnerable with other people.
So what could possibly be the benefits of emotional intimacy and vulnerability? Oddly enough they are myriad. By slowly and gently learning how to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable with others in A.A. I have gained life skills that I was sorely lacking previously. Skills that have made my life sober so much richer and more enjoyable than before. I have seen empathy in action and through that have learned how to be empathetic myself. I have learned how to be compassionate. I have come to know what compassion and empathy FEEL like. I have learned how to listen. I have let down my walls, walls that I initially put up to protect myself from "everyone else" but that were crumbling under the weight of how heavy, claustrophobic and prison-like they had become over the years.
Learning how to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable with people has finally allowed me to be my authentic self. Even if only for an hour a day while sitting in an A.A. meeting, I am able to be my true self, warts and all. That feeling is so liberating. So freeing. I can finally relax. Being a closed book might sound nice but it is actually quite draining and very exhausting. A house of cards that will eventually fall. The fake "I'm fine" facade takes much more energy and concentration to keep intact than just exposing my true self to a trusted few. That was a revelation to me. So I start with that one hour a day. I allow myself to be emotionally intimate, vulnerable and trusting of others in the rooms of A.A. Then I move on, bringing these skills with me out into the world.
In addiction I was actively running away from intimacy and vulnerability. I hid behind a wall of drugs, alcohol and false bravado. In recovery I am learning how to embrace them. I share my intimate thoughts and feelings and find out that I'm not alone with them. Knowing that I am vulnerable, that I can't control the world around me or others, that my fate is “In the Lap of the Gods" allows me to relax, to release my tense dragon-lady grip on reality and how I think that should look. I am free and available to enjoy my friendships and the people in my life. The tightly sealed book that had been my chilly isolated refuge for decades is slowly opening, the rigid spine softening, the tightly bound pages unfurling.
It's clear to me that some day very soon I will have to take intimate and vulnerable off my grossest-words-ever compilation list and I'm ecstatic about that. But before I do that I'll just grab a smidge of tepid squash crammed full of fungal squid innards. Care to join me? I hope you will.