What To Do When You Have A Vulnerability Hangover

I experienced my first major hangover in November 2011. It was also the night I got my “Freedom” tattoo, soon after I’d left my ex-husband when I found out he was having another affair. Ironically, neither event was actually about him; I’d wanted to try drinking and I also loved tattoos and realized I didn’t have anyone to answer to anymore.

The culprit was the Screwdriver – a vodka, orange juice mix that makes me nauseated thinking about it now. For a brand new drinker, three Screwdrivers in a row after I hadn’t really eaten in six weeks (from the stress of the divorce, the move, and starting a new life), was possibly the worst idea ever. Worst than the time I tried to bleach my own hair blonde when I was 18, without knowing anything about hair coloring. That’s a story for another day.

So, anyhow, I proceeded to make a complete ass of myself at an industry party and ended up getting kicked out of the hotel, and throwing up in the bathroom while a girl I had just met held my hair back. The next morning, feeling a little embarrassed but not too shabby, I decided that I wanted to get home and started the two-hour drive back. About halfway there, I started to feel sick and then I threw up the entire way home. I spent the rest of the day and evening with the worst headache I’d ever had in my life, curled up in the fetal position under a blanket in a dark room of my soon-to-be roommate’s apartment.

I can’t drink orange juice anymore.

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Hangovers suck in any capacity and for the last month, I’ve been experiencing a hum-dinger of a hangover. This one wasn’t induced by anything you’d find in a bottle, but like all hangovers, this was self-inflicted. Since my last post 5 weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing what writer/researcher Brene Brown calls a “Vulnerability Hangover.”

After Brene’s now-viral TEDTalk, The Power of Vulnerability, she experienced what she calls a Vulnerability Hangover. It’s the anxiety that comes the next day or week (or month in my case) after you put yourself out there and you think, “Oh, my God! Why did I share that?” And now you want to hide FOREVER.

Many of you have probably heard of Brene’s work and it’s only been recently that it’s resonated with me. I’d tried reading her book Daring Greatly, for years, but never really got into it and finally, about 8 months ago, I came to a place where I understood what she was saying. At work, our Book Club is now reading her book “The Gifts Of Imperfection,” and I am in the middle of Braving the Wilderness, which has made its way into my top 5 favorite books of all time.

In any case, I am here to report that the Vulnerability Hangover is real. After sharing my #MeToo story in my last post, I got an outpouring of love and support, but man, I felt like hiding under the blanket, waiting for the nausea to pass. In a society where being vulnerable and showing the real you (not the social media, Instagram-filtered, carefully curated you) – your fears, your struggles, your shame – is considered a weakness, being vulnerable actually takes courage. Vulnerability is uncomfortable and most of us shy away from it. We allow ourselves to hide behind our computer and iPhone screens and paint a glossy, airbrushed picture of our lives. But being truly vulnerable helps us to become, as Brene says, “wholehearted.” (If you are asking yourself, why should I want to be wholehearted, scroll back up there and watch the video – trust me, it’s worth it).

Why We Should Strive to Be More Vulnerable

  1. Vulnerability makes us uncomfortable, which leads to growth
  2. Vulnerability creates connections with people
  3. Vulnerability helps us in the process of healing
  4. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”  – Brene Brown
  5. Vulnerability builds authentic relationships

What To Do When You Have A Vulnerability Hangover

Once you’ve been vulnerable and find yourself the next day (or month) nursing that Vulnerability Hangover, here are some ways to “cure” it.

1. Own Your Story

Every single one of us has a running script in our heads that play on repeat. These words have been formed since childhood, from years of experiences – good and bad. Perhaps in the 4th grade, you struggled with learning your multiplication tables and you began telling yourself that you had a bad memory. This bad memory of yours got you grounded when you forgot to feed the dog like your mom asked you to do. Then one day in high school, you forget your Chemistry book and in college, you forget a lunch date with a friend. Each time you forget, you tell yourself, “oh, I have a bad memory. Look at all these times I forgot to do things.” This is a story you tell yourself. Maybe your memory is just fine and rote memorization isn’t your learning style, but you began picking up evidence to support your original story and now you “have a bad memory.”

So, to cure a vulnerability hangover, you need to identify all these stories running rampant in your head and begin to own them, one by one. Your life is your story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. How you own it, that is on you. Whether you choose to share it publicly, with a close friend, or just acknowledging it in a journal and telling yourself, “This is what happened and this is what I’ve learned from it,” it’s important to identify them, own them and then decide if each story serves you well and will help you become the person you want to be. If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, change it.

If your story is that you are creative at coming up with workarounds for interesting problems and your dream is to become an Olivia Pope-type problem solver, then own that story and run with it. If your story is that you’re stupid and will never be good enough to start your own problem-solving business, figure out where that story came from, own it, and then ditch that story ASAP!

2. Hair of the Dog

I’ve never understood the hangover remedy of drinking more when you’re hungover. When I’m curled in a ball hurting after a night of drinking, more alcohol is the last thing I want, but people swear by this remedy. And in the case of a Vulnerability Hangover, continuing to be more vulnerable is also not something I want to subject myself to the morning (or month) after. But continuing to be vulnerable with people is exactly what you need to do. Being uncomfortable is a tool for growth. It’s been six years since I began sharing my stories here after I left my ex-husband and by doing so, I’ve connected with so many people who’ve reached out and told me that my story has helped them in some way.

Sometimes, when we are dealing with life’s shit, we feel utterly and completely alone and no one wants to feel like they are alone. Humans are made for connection and we seek out those that understand us. So, don’t be afraid of being authentic and continuing to allow yourself to be vulnerable. It’s uncomfortable, yes. But when you learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, that’s when you change.

And just like drinking, make sure you find a balance between hermit and oversharing. Neither extreme is good for you, but a good middle ground will be a wonderful tool in your self-development.

3. Talk To A Friend

When you’re experiencing a vulnerability hangover, you may be tempted to crawl into a hole and hide, but don’t do it! Call up a friend and talk it out. If we allow ourselves to continue to hide and nurse our hangovers, we often are left to our own thoughts, which means the only person we have an opinion from is our inner critic and she can be a real bitch sometimes. And if she is all we are listening to, she gets pretty darn convincing.

Good friends will be there to tell you that you’re not an idiot, weird or stupid after you’re vulnerable. They will listen to you as you whine about how lame you are, tell you to shut it, and pour you a shot of something strong (or maybe just make you some tea). The key is you need some other voice that’s not yours to remind you of your awesomeness.

Hangovers are rough. They are not fun. But a vulnerability hangover is a good thing. It’s a sign that you’re moving toward a more wholehearted existence, a place where you are happier, more confident, more secure, and more at peace with yourself. The discomfort is worth it. Trust me. I’ve been there.

Books I’m Reading

In addition to the books mentioned above, I’ve been reading:

  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – this book is so good and super fun. The whole family enjoyed it.
  2. Ikigai by Hector Garcia – interesting concept on longevity and happiness
  3. The Greatest Showman – so it’s not a book, but the movie was so good, I had to mention it

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