I grew up in a culture where a woman’s place really is in the kitchen (or the bedroom).
There are certain social, widely accepted ‘norms’ that must be followed: the man is the head, the bread winner, the tough iron shield of the family; the woman, the woman, as my male relative would put it is the “neck of the family, supporting the head in deciding the way forward”. But in truth, the neck is to very quietly express their opinion, and only where it suits the ideals of the men because at the end of the day, it’s the head that makes the decision.
Something about these ‘norms’ didn’t quite resonate in me. It didn’t make sense that two people who are supposed to be in equal partnership for life have inferior and superior roles.
Ever since I can remember I have rebelled against these ‘norms’. From the moment I could walk I began pushing to prove that I am equal to, even better than men in every way possible.
Men around me would look at women and belittle them in many ways possible; from the way women drive, to the way they dress and the amount of food they eat – women just weren’t good enough for the standards of men in the culture I was born.
So who would want to be a woman in a place women are considered second class citizens, where vulnerable equals weak and fragile, faulty?
Hence I neatly threw my vulnerability out the window, my fragility I put in a pretty little box, shoved it in a cupboard, locked the doors and swallowed the key. From as long as I can remember, I played the tough girl. The girl who was faster than boys, stronger than boys, even manlier than boys. In my high school years, I was proud to say I was more of a man than most men I knew.
Meanwhile, inside of me I felt like a flower deprived of sunlight and water with its roots dabbed in rock-hard soil without access to any nourishment. The low self-worth, hardness, and layers of protection I held inside of me felt like weeds strangling this precious flower.
Until one day, a little bud broke through the cobweb of weeds in a form of an inguinal hernia. The moment I saw the lump I thought to myself “What have you done to yourself Viktoria?!”. Yes, my vulnerability had climbed back up through the window, my fragility had broken out of the box and my hernia was a screaming message that I need to be more honouring of myself.
But I didn’t listen, and what did I do instead? I added self-loathing, need for recognition, and judgement to the poisonous concoction and I used it to feed the weeds. The flower however was persistent, so the little bud kept growing, popping out every time I was in disregard of myself; every time I found myself in judgement of me, or of others; and every time I dove into my need to be recognised and the saviour of everyone and everything around me.
People say that hernias develop because of heavy lifting, and they’re not wrong. Can you imagine how heavy it is to carry all of these poisonous emotions inside you? In my experience it is literally like carrying an elephant in your hands and trying to skip like a school girl.
However, through developing loving habits, I began to nurture and care for myself.
From paying attention to every single one of my teeth while brushing them, to gently untangling my hair in the shower, and stopping the harsh exercise I was forcing onto my body. I began to pay attention to the signal my body gives when I eat, drink, or take something. I began to listen to its cry for sleep and structure. I began to keep a diary of my feelings, when I woke up, before I ate, after I ate, in the afternoon while having my tea, at any point I felt like there was something there that didn’t seem quite right.
I stopped ignoring and I started observing.
This strengthened my connection with myself. It supported my self-loving choices because when I opened up to feel my wounds, I opened up to feel love and joy also. By opening up, I was allowing my body to express how it truly feels, I got to know the things that bring joy and the things that bring pain and thus I began to drop the things that bring pain and focus on the things that bring joy.
Three years after the lump showed up for the first time, coming to acceptance with the fact that I have harmed my body to a state where I needed medical intervention, I underwent a surgery. The hernia was sealed and with that so was my pocket for self-harm. Six days later, I feel light as a feather and clear of all the negative and pain inflicting thoughts I held inside this pocket.
By allowing myself to feel just how vulnerable I am, I opened a new path of reconnecting to the incredibly gentle and feminine young woman that I am. And yet, I feel powerful, strong, and much more secure in myself, my abilities, and what I can bring to the world.
So, no, vulnerable does not mean weak; fragile does not mean faulty. They are innate qualities inside every single one of us, they are two most empowering qualities that allow us to connect with one another and live in deep harmony.
Only if we surrender…
By Viktoria Stoykova, Student, UK
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