The Freedom to Belch in Public

A couple weekends ago, Ainsley and I were out touring a local gym. As we headed up the stairs with the membership salesperson, listening as he described the cardio room, Ains let out a massive belch. When we got to the top of the stairs, she let out a second burp. Exercisers from across the room glanced over on their treadmills and elliptical machines, smiling at the discovery that such a tiny person had just let out such a booming sound.

When babies burp it’s adorable and hilarious but as adults this kind of behavior is taboo and quite simply, gross. At some point in our lives, we become aware of what is and isn’t acceptable socially and we begin to adapt our behavior accordingly.

While most of us would probably admit that belching in public is not preferable, there are other parts of ourselves that we hide due to embarrassment, insecurity or shame. For example, financial hardship, marital strife, a difficult child… we often don’t let others in on these struggles because we don’t want them to think we aren’t holding our families together. Or what about depression, anxiety or anger issues. At some point we learned that these are family secrets, not to be let out beyond the walls we’ve built around our lives.

If others find out, we fear they may reject us. They may not think we’re perfect (although, did they ever?). They may think we can’t keep it together… that we have issues. We were told that our tears are not worth shedding. That we “are just overreacting.” That “it’s not that bad.” That other people “have real problems.” We learned to hide instead of bring these feelings, circumstances and struggles out into the open. We are afraid that if we do, others may not like us anymore or we may become outcasts, when in reality, letting people in often results in the opposite; closeness with others and freedom for ourselves.

Sharing is a risk. It requires vulnerability. This is not easy and for some, the concept is entirely foreign. Shame and vulnerability researcher, Brene Brown, says in the Huffington Post article, Dare to Live Greatly:

Vulnerability is about uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. We have convinced ourselves that if we armor up every day — if we try to be perfect or know everything — then somehow we can minimize the things we fear feeling the most: disappointment, fear, shame, and unworthiness. But these emotions are part of the human experience. When we minimize them, we end up cutting ourselves off from the meaningful experiences that are born of vulnerability — that require vulnerability — including belonging, joy, creativity, innovation, trust, and empathy.

So how do we become more vulnerable, or at least more comfortable with the idea? According to Brene Brown:

What we need to figure out is how to have the courage to show up, to be imperfect, be human, be seen, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and celebrate success.

That’s quite a list. What I’m working on right now is her first point; having the courage to show up.

This season has not been easy for Jake and me. Our little family has had our world turned upside down from a place of comfort and stability to the unfamiliar realities of parenthood, stressful work environments and isolation in a fast-paced new city. Each day we start over. We wake up to a fresh start and even if we accomplish nothing else, we simply try to be positive and present. We simply show up.

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