Before I began my journey of self-discovery, the steady stream of anxious, self-judging thoughts in my head had only ever been interrupted by two things:
- People (whom I used like drugs)
Both of these simply interrupted my self-destructive mental routines. When I learned to interrupt those patterns myself—without any crutches or medications—I got high on life. High on the beauty of existence.
When I started to write about my experiences and share those writings publicly, I found yet another natural drug: vulnerability. Stripping down my defenses and showing my true self to the world gave me a high beyond any other. But it came with a price.
My first popular article was this one: Lies Women Tell One Another About Men and Love. I remember receiving the link in my email, my heart fluttering as I clicked it, butterflies in my stomach. And I remember the feeling of mortified shame that washed through my entire body when I read the tagline added by the editors: “Vironika Tugaleva thought she was showing her man how much she loved him by being the perfect Cosmo Girl. Instead, she almost lost him.”
There it was in big, bold letters. Proof that I wasn’t perfect. Proof that I was a flawed, messy human being who made mistakes. The shame was unbearable.
Until that moment, I was high on self-acceptance, but actually putting myself out there made my self-judgment return with a vengeance. It screamed, “What will people think?!”
For some reason, the editors republished the article this year, so I can’t tell you how popular it got at the time, but I do remember sitting on my futon back in 2013 the morning after publication, seeing the Facebook Like count hit 800, and thinking, “They know.” Eight hundred people know how ugly and messy I am.
Then I realized that the actual amount of people who had read the article was much larger than the Like count. I felt sick to my stomach, but I also felt liberated, passionate, alive. It was like a tornado. I felt so good and so bad all at the same time.
Slowly, I got used to the shameful feelings. The vulnerability high became more powerful.
In the meantime, the article got more popular. It was republished on Elephant Journal. I got emails, messages. I didn’t even have a website then—just a little WordPress blog called “Ironicka.” (Heh heh… get it?) I got some confidence not only as a writer but also as a human being. I connected with like-minded people all around the world. And it was all because of vulnerability.
I started to think, “Okay, I guess it was just hard to share at the beginning. Maybe I won’t feel that bad again.”
Oh, but I did. I have. I do.
My reaction to that article began the silent inner battle between the part of me that just wants to be whatever I am and the part of me that thinks I need to be someone specific in order to inspire people.
When I released The Love Mindset, I experienced such intense shame that it made my reaction to that first article seem like a papercut. I realized that vulnerability might always be hard. But I also realized that it would always be rewarding.
It has not been easy. Each step along the way, I have been plagued by pre-posting self-judgment (“I could just keep this a secret forever!”) and post-posting self-judgment (“I can’t believe I just told people that!”)
I’ve tried to be honest with you about this battle, but that’s been hard too. I written about my struggles with perfectionism, chronicled my struggles with self-judgment and stage fright, and most recently, I wrote about reintegrating the parts of me I alienated along the way.
But there are still things I haven’t said. This week, a friend emailed me to share something raw and honest. At the end of her email, she said she’d been afraid to tell me her story because she thought of me as a model of perfect health and self-acceptance.
This brought me face-to-face with a harsh reality: if people feel that way about me, then clearly I’m not being as honest as I can. I don’t want people to look at me and want to be me. I want people to feel more comfortable in their own skins because they watch me being that way in my own. That’s my purpose, more than anything.
So, here I am. Back at my confession stand. Here are some things I haven’t shared publicly yet:
- I’ve said that I stopped wearing makeup in 2012. This is true. However, I wore it again one more time in my interview for Evolving Beings. That day, I woke up with a giant zit on my chin and, feeling insecure, went to a drugstore and asked the makeup person to conceal it. I promised myself I’d never do this again.
- I felt incredibly awkward next time I went on camera with a pimple. I tried to forget about my appearance and just connect to the audience. I didn’t succeed. It was such an awkward hour.
- Although I stopped drinking at the start of my self-love journey, I reintegrated it within a year. So, I still drink alcohol. Not daily or excessively or self-destructively, but I do. And you know what? I’m proud of myself for that. I used to wonder how people could have alcohol in the house without finishing it all. I used to say things I regretted, instigate fights, vomit, and pass out in the street. I used to keep a bottle of vodka in my freezer for “emergencies” (i.e. negative emotions). Now, I can have a few drinks and stop, like most people. Alcohol doesn’t have the same effect on me that it used to. And I’m proud of that. I’ve created that reality by learning to meet my needs in other ways.
- When I quit hard drugs, I still continued to smoke pot once in a while. Within a year, I quit. It was harder to stop than cigarettes and alcohol combined. Pot was my creativity crutch. It literally took me 3 years of diligent practice (and, sometimes, sheer willpower) to learn to write without it. But in the past 6 months, I’ve smoked pot twice. No, I don’t regret it. And yes, I might do it again.
- I quit smoking in 2012. Recently, I had a drag of a cigarette. I hardly managed to inhale before I hacked, spat, grimaced, and handed it back to the person who passed it to me. It was disgusting. But I’m glad I did it. It showed me how trustworthy my body’s reactions have become. No, I don’t regret it. But no, I won’t do it again.
- I’ve worried about people judging me for not being 100% clean and saying, “Once an addict, always an addict.” But the only time I believed that saying was when I was an addict who needed to justify my behavior. I believe that addiction originates in poor self-understanding. I also believe that people who make an identity out of abstinence have a higher chance of relapse than those who experiment but know how to get their emotional needs met without any crutches. I’ve found that to be true in my experiences. Those who don’t agree with me might have had different experiences. It doesn’t mean that mine are wrong. I stand by my choices.
- I still cringe when I think about my singing performance in this video. I’ve been practicing daily, and know I’ve improved dramatically. I want to record myself again, but I am terrified. I will do it. I know I’m stalling. I know it’s just fear, and I’m stalling anyway.
- On the launch day of The Art of Talking to Yourself, I announced that I’d be moving into poetry and fiction. At the time, I wanted to add music to that. But I was terrified.
- I told myself I would do at least ten open mics (singing and playing guitar) in Toronto this summer. I have done zero. But in a crafty stall tactic, I performed at to two poetry open mics. It was okay, but it wasn’t a challenge. I know I’m stalling.
- Sometimes, I get stressed out, controlling, and unreasonable. I have meltdowns. Sometimes, I get anxiety as a passenger on the highway and, instead of being mindful, I distract myself. Sometimes, I run when I should rest my joints. I don’t always take breaks when I need them. I don’t always hold my yoga poses for long enough. Some days, I am really impatient.
- I love eating. Sometimes, I do too much of that.
- When I was out running last week, I saw an elderly woman taking a compost bin down a set of steep stairs and didn’t stop to help.
- I’m not always Miss Kindness when I’m 5 calls deep into resolving a customer service issue.
- I am ashamed of myself for hiding all these things when they’ve been integral parts of my human experience.
- I’m afraid of publishing this post.
I’ve so often encouraged others not to follow dogma, but I’ve followed my own dogma about what it means to be inspiring to others.
At the end of the day, self-discovery is about questioning everything—even the “good” and “healthy” things. What’s right for me at this moment might not inspire most people. And that’s okay. What was right for me 4 years ago when I first started this work isn’t necessarily right for me now. And that’s okay too. Sometimes, I feel like deleting my old blog posts because I feel like I’ve changed so much. But then, I’d never stop deleting. I’ll always be changing.
So no more dogma. And no more role model. I’m just a human being trying to do my best each day. I’ve managed to achieve some things. I still struggle with others. One day, I’ll look back on who I am today and realize how much more I still had to learn. And I’m okay with that.
I’m also at peace with however people react to this post. If I were to read these same words written by someone else, I’d feel inspired, not judgmental. And that’s a reflection of where I am on my journey now. We’re all in different places.
If anything, I hope that my words inspire you to share yourself honesty, like my friend’s email did for me. She’s not my role model. She’s my fellow voyager on this chaotic, beautiful path of life. And that’s what I want to be for you.
If you’d like to join me in this catharsis, feel free to share some of your imperfections in the comments below. Honest, brave responses are always the ones I appreciate most. If that sounds scary, then I can promise you one thing: no matter how strong your fear, the vulnerability high will always be stronger.