The Vulnerability Hangover

You know what is the best feeling EVER when sitting down to write?

A clear calendar. Nothing to do that involves anyone else. No calls, no urgent emails, no meetings or deadlines or deliverables.

GOD I can just about chew on how good those days are.

Anyway. I had one like that today, and I’ve got another one tomorrow.

Days like this are so good because while you can definitely get plenty done writing in snatches, like yesterday, you do need longer, uninterrupted stretches to delve into the tender parts of your life.

When you’re looking back on something that was difficult, you find yourself back in the same emotions. The same thoughts you had back then echo through your mind. You might even have the same physical reactions you did in particularly intense moments.

And when you put it all on the page, it’s vulnerable.

If you go on to show it other people, it’s extremely vulnerable.

So you need time to write about it all in a way that’s true, and that will protect you from the vulnerability hangover.  

The vulnerability hangover is the mortifying, crushing shame and fear you feel after you reveal something about yourself in an unsafe way.

It might be unsafe because you shared it with someone who doesn’t merit the confidence, or because you included too much detail that makes you feel compromised, or because you simply can’t gauge what the reaction was, and you feel exposed to judgement.

This is not what we want from writing.

Writing should be a balm that soothes what was painful. It should be a gentle release, not a violent exorcism. It should leave you feeling brave and proud of yourself.

Part of avoiding the vulnerability hangover is trying to be objective about what gets shared.

Earlier this week I mentioned that I felt like I needed to write more about my divorce before I could get on with writing the book that actually needs to be written here.

I did that today, and I’m pleased with what I wrote. I think most of what needed to be released made it onto the page.

I’m not going to share it though. As much as I feel tempted to put ‘my version of events’ out into the public sphere, and might be justified in doing so, that way lies the vulnerability hangover.

It might feel good while I’m doing it, but given enough time, I think I’d regret it.

My ex and I spent enough time drinking Very Bad Tequila that I know a cheap shot always costs you later.

I also know I need to be gentle with myself for the rest of the day, because you can get a vulnerability hangover even if you don’t share.

Reliving trauma is hard, and sure enough, all the rage and grief and heady relief of that time came rushing back through my body.

So once I’m done with this email, I’m going to go see a friend, spend some time meditating and do some yoga. I’ll make something hearty and nourishing for dinner and go to bed early.

We talk about writing so often as this thing that we do just sitting down at our desks, in discreet intervals.

But that is a completely one-dimensional view of it.

Writing happens constantly: on the way to get coffee, during a conversation, even asleep. Our brains are constantly forming stories about our lives, looking for connections, moving the pieces around until something sticks.

It’s completely unrealistic to think that once you get up from an intense day of writing, you just leave it all at the desk. It’s just not how it works.

So on the days when you do have a long stretch, and you can delve deep, remember to go easy on yourself.

Be careful what you share, and with whom.

And remember that the writing never stops, so even if you do end up with a vulnerability hangover, you can always write it differently the next time.