Recently, I’ve found myself wondering a lot why I share so much. I talk about deep personal problems to people I’m close to just as much as people I hardly know. I don’t fully regret doing it, and I know I have reasons why, but sometimes, I feel uncomfortable afterward. Part of me does regret it, I guess.
In her book “Daring Greatly,” Brene Brown writes about how oversharing can sometimes be problematic or arise from issues that can be fixed in better ways. It can be part of a "vulnerability armory" in which we try to protect ourselves from vulnerability. An example I identify with is floodlighting, which can look like using vulnerability to test others, to fast-forward a relationship, or to try to discharge comfort. It’s a way to fight vulnerability by becoming overly vulnerable.
However, I don’t think I’m totally in the wrong here. Sharing my story is one way in which I became the person my younger self-needed.
Let’s rewind a little bit.
Younger Ashley quoted Spongebob often, even during fourth grade Sunday School. She played with bathtub crayons and washable markers for hours. She wore Justice t-shirts and went to dance classes.
Younger-But-Older Ashley hung out with friends a lot and participated in her school’s hype student section during football games. She did service work and peer mentorship and was involved with her youth group. She took a lot of baths still, just without the crayons and markers (most times).
So yes, I seemed pretty “normal” and successful on the outside -- and that’s not completely wrong -- however, I dealt with mental health issues and various problematic experiences and people. I was privileged in many ways but faced my own share of struggles as well.
Having been in college for two years now, I’ve learned a lot about my younger self and why I am the way I am now, for better and for worse. I’ve learned how I function, how my brain sees things, and what I need from others and from myself. It’s a lot of insight, but also a lot of work. Add in new problems that arose in college, and well, you could say I’m never bored.
I won’t overshare my personal story right now, because that's not necessarily the point. Through my journey, I've learned some of the main things I need are validation and empathy. I need to feel comfortable in having and sharing emotions. I need to be heard and understood. I need to feel like I’m turning my struggles into other people’s successes. I need to feel like I have control and worth.
So, I talk a lot. I share my story. I yearn for close relationships and connections that will erase my shame through vulnerability. I share my story with people whom I hope will feel less alone because I know what they’re going through in my own way. I go to therapy and work hard and validate myself when others don’t know how to do so. I fight for my needs and mental health and boundaries. I listen to what my current self needs.
While writing a sermon for College Student Sunday in which I shared a personal trauma, God reminded me of Genesis 50:20. Two important variations of the verse exist; the first one says “Grace means that all of your mistakes now serve a purpose instead of serving shame.” The second says “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Through these verses, I am reminded that we are really all one big family, one big group of people trying to navigate life together, doing the best we can for ourselves and each other. I’m reminded of how much I value advocacy, vulnerability, empathy, shedding light, and how we’re more alike than unlike, as Maya Angelou said. I remember that I can help other people by sharing my story and by being bold and unashamed.
Sue Monk Kidd, the author of "The Secret Life of Bees," says “The truth is, in order to heal we need to tell our stories and have them witnessed… the story itself becomes a vessel that holds us up, that sustains, that allows us to order our jumbled experiences into meaning.” Ultimately, we must share, process, connect and heal. We will not be ashamed. We are human beings of light and power who all experience ups and downs and successes and embarrassing moments.
My younger self-needed that, and I’m giving it to her as best I can right now. I learned we must practice talking to ourselves like we would to the younger version of ourselves, small children who want love and peace and understanding.
Ashley, I tell you this. You are so strong. You are going through some problems that are incredibly valid, no matter what you or the media tells you, no matter the lack of stories you hear that match your own. Your feelings matter and are welcome here. Eat that ice cream. Don’t count the calories. Appreciate what your body can do for you when it’s being nurtured. Love it at all sizes. Learn how to change what you can and accept what you cannot. When no one validates you, validate yourself. Know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, things will get better. College, despite what you will face in it, will be so much better. You and your body deserve respect. You are worth more than what you have gone through and the ways some people have treated you. You are not alone in what you face, and you have people who love you well as you are and no matter what burdens you carry. You are accepted.
I come home to my younger self, my current self, and my future self every day. I talk to her with compassion. Oh, how she is worth it. How far she has come.