02/13/2015 03:56 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2015

What I've Learned About Vulnerability

Being vulnerable means: capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt. It means that you can share your truth to others and express yourself from a genuine place. With this comes the ability to be disappointed, frustrated, nervous, confused, or hurt. These emotions are harder to tolerate, but they are also a natural part of life.

The word vulnerability is constantly tossed around for better or for worse. But I know that the more vulnerable we are, the stronger we are, the more we grow and the more freedom we possess. I don't know about you, but being vulnerable can be so unsettling. My journey with vulnerability has been a roller coaster ride. I truly embraced it for the first time when I became sober at 25.

Before that, the outside world defined me. Success in academics and athletics was my way of connecting with the people around me. I didn't even know that "vulnerability" existed because I was too focused on accomplishments and moving from one task to another.

What it all comes down to is this: I did not feel worthy of being vulnerable. I didn't know how to love, accept, or appreciate myself. So when I became sober in September 2012, I had to learn what it meant to love and connect with myself. I had to stop using food, drugs and alcohol to give me a destructive sense of comfort and love. I was powerless to my relationship with these substances. I was powerless to living the life I was put here to live because I didn't care.

So here is what I've learned about vulnerability and it's benefits:

1. It is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

When I finally admitted I was an addict, I felt a surge of power and energy. I no longer was a victim to my circumstances but the empowered person I was put here to be.

2. I have to first start loving myself.
This is where it all begins. I put up a wall for so many years. I was scared of letting others in because I didn't know how to let myself in. I engaged in destructive behaviors because it provided comfort. This comfort served no purpose and kept me in a cycle of self-hatred. So I've started to love myself, one day at a time and this has allowed the vulnerable being within me to shine.

3. I have had to let go of past decisions.
The more I lived as a victim, the more shame and guilt I felt. And the more shame and guilt I felt, the more pain I was in. I was unlovable and unworthy. By letting go of the past and embracing the here and now, I put my authentic self out to the world.

4. I have compassion
How could I have compassion for others when I had no compassion for myself? Being vulnerable opened this door. I accept that I am human with flaws and imperfections. I am not going to feel great one hundred percent of the time. I have compassion and empathy for myself and thus I have it for others.

5. I can help others.
Part of my purpose here is to love. It is to be of service and show up in my life and for the people I love and care about. Being vulnerable allows me to do this. I used to only care about myself and getting outside validation. Now, I can take a step back and be of service and help others by just being present.

6. I can form real and genuine relationships.
Being vulnerable enables me to fully connect with others. In the past, my relationships focused around alcohol and living superficially. Now, there is much more honesty, truth, and love in my relationships. Plus, I communicate in ways I never thought possible which gives me more self-confidence and self-worth.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.