“…you gotta show up if you wanna be seen…” The Avett Brothers*
at some point or another, if you’re spending time in the rooms of 12-step programs, you’ll hear someone talking about “showing up.” invariably, you’ll notice these two words elicit nods – of acknowledgment, of identification, of approval. as addicts and alcoholics, showing up most likely became an issue for most of us. showing up to work on time, or at all, showing up to family functions, showing up to the shower. whether incapacitated physically by our substance(s) of choice or the aftermath thereof, chances are if you were hoping for us to be around, we weren’t. right ?
or maybe, some of us were. until recently, all the talking and nodding about “showing up” made me recoil. don’t get me wrong, logically, i understand. for many, being places was hard ! hangovers, better offers, and black outs (or some combination of these forces) create scenarios where one might not make it home after a night out with their friends, or cause a parent to be absent from important functions and milestones. so it makes sense to acknowledge, celebrate, and share gratitude for the capability to show up in others’ lives, and our own, now that we are recovering.
but with my flavor of alcoholism, my scenarios often included me pulling myself up by my boot straps to get to where i needed to go, after a good thorough scrub and an obsessive primping routine. or, what was more likely, was that i control freaked my way through situations so that any obligation or responsibility was met with a plastered on smile before everything else about me got plastered.
my point is – i can be a body in a room. booze or no booze, i can pose for the family picture, i can bake the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, i can be there early to pick you up so that you can tie one on. showing up, in the day to day, get to where everyone needs me to be sense, was not an issue for me. so, for a while, the prospect of rushing to “show up” to take up space in more places as integral to my recovery enraged me quite a bit.
that is, until that sweet sweet miracle of hearing something just slightly differently took place.
i can’t tell you what it was my sponsor and i were talking about when it happened, but i do know one day in the not too distant past, i heard the words “show up,” and did not want to run screaming, pulling my hair out one by one. i heard the words “show up” and instantly knew it was about me. it was, and IS, about me stepping in to who i am. unapologetically. repeatedly. day in and day out. situation to situation. relationship to relationship. instantly i knew – it doesn’t matter who needs me or what the situation requires in any sort of practical sense. the singular constant truth through it all is that showing up means bringing all of me, all of the time.
who is j, today ? where is j, today ? now, i don’t believe this means i get to go back on my word or show up to a family occasion with a total chip on my shoulder because the julianna today is not in the same mood as the julianna who originally committed to the obligation. (although, i would argue that saying “no” or risking disappointing others is are important acts of self care that should not go underestimated…but more on that another time). i do think it means showing up to said family occasion as fully me as i can be. perhaps even daring to admit that i might not be in the swellest of moods, or that i might need to head home a bit early so that i can get some rest, or that i might need some help with a particular task i’d normally welcome the chance to do myself because of where i am at today.
and, in understanding showing up to refer to what i am bringing to a situation, i can also ask myself “what can i contribute to this scenario?” now, as a people pleaser, co-dependent, yadda yadda yadda, this concept, too, might cause one to bristle with rage. however, contributing does not have to mean “how can i sacrifice my own personal life source to make others happy and/or comfortable?” today, i see this as an opportunity to reveal parts of myself that may have been shoved in to hiding for one reason or another throughout the years. for instance, i typically assume the care-taking, “i’ll do it, let me do it, i SAID i’ve GOT IT,” role. and sure, i derive some sense of pride from that. but what if i wanted to be the funny girl at the BBQ ? what if i wanted to spend the entire afternoon playing with my nephew in the dirt instead of obsessing over how my father is, or is not, taking care of himself ? what if i didn’t want to bring a salad ? would the entire holiday be ruined? would my family hate me until the end of time ? would i shrivel up and die right there on the spot, the subject of their hatred laden glares ? the answer to all of those questions is a resounding no.
i am also finding that showing up means bringing all of me, regardless of whatever noise is happening between my two ears about what the “all of me” is (weird, quirky, out there, uptight, neurotic), or isn’t (good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, enough enough…you get the picture). it’s mighty exhausting, not to mention quite literally soul diminishing, to plaster on that smile and have perfect manners and speak about only surface level topics when none of those things are authentic to the experience i am actually wanting to have. i come up against this in so many arenas of my life and i can’t even begin to capture with words the liberation that comes from just bringing it all, whenever i can. it certainly does not mean i do it perfectly, and i’m only just now, after months of churning the concept around inside my brain, starting to be able to come from a place of authenticity with any sort of regularity. but every small victory along the way, starting with being willing to take that first step of just doing one thing differently, helped pave the way to make showing up in this way second nature.
instead of worrying about whether or not what i share in a meeting is AA or “old-timer” approved, i try and remember that you never know who you can help by sharing your truth. the reality is, if i’m experiencing something, chances are someone else has or is as well. instead of trying to “figure out” (that’s always fun, right?) who it is others expect me to be in social situations, i can now rest easy just bringin’ what i got. whether that is a completely ridiculous pun or an impassioned diatribe, either the people i am with are going to love me or hate me for it, but at least i will have been genuinely me. at least i will not have sacrificed who i am on top of everything else. the sense of finding home within one’s self is inevitable when approaching showing up by just being your fully embodied self. at least i’ve found that to be the case. plus, the reality is, no matter what you do, someone can always find a reason to not like you. it doesn’t make anyone good or bad – it doesn’t have to be a value judgment. but some people just vibrate at different frequencies. so isn’t it better to find your own frequency and vibe to that and see what comes back to you, instead of constantly shifting your frequency in the *hopes* of matching another’s ?
the other paradox i’ve discovered in all of this, that is not so paradoxical at all, is that when i show up fully as me, regardless of what that means, feel less and less invisible. like the Avett Brothers proclaim in “ain’t no man,” you gotta show up if you wanna be seen. now,
most times sometimes i do NOT want to be seen. sometimes being seen IS my problem. and being honest and sincere definitely can definitely leave one pretty vulnerable. which, i don’t think is easy for any human, “ism” or no “ism.” but i cannot tell you how many times i have walked away from social situations feeling completely exasperated and invisible. “how come nobody really gets me?” “these people don’t really know me, how can i ever continue to be friends with them?” well. maybe if ya stopped sitting there with shoulders hunched, quietly absorbing everyone else’s experience, completely giving up on sharing your own, you might give someone a chance to see you! and that vulnerability that seems so scary and so NOT doable ? well, it doesn’t HAVE to be scary, and it CAN be doable. i’ve found that any time i want to cut myself off from a portion of an experience, controlling situations so that only so much can be felt or exposed, i ultimately cut myself off from a fully embodied experience altogether. no joy without pain, no sun without rain and all that. how can i expect to form meaningful, rich, vibrant relationships with others, let alone myself, if i am keeping a portion of myself from myself and others ?
so…to you out there in the ethers. i dare you. show up. show up as *you* – whatever that means. loud or soft, big or small, messy or neat, vibrating or floating or dancing or spinning. you never know how you might help, or who you might meet…including those parts of you perhaps long forgotten.
are there ways or places you aren’t fully showing up ? is there something you could use help showing up to ? let me know, i’d love to hear about it !
*link to the official audio for the Avett Brothers ‘ain’t no man’ – if nothing else, the song should surely get you to vibrating in some way !