It was one of the most destructive meltdowns we’ve experienced. Profanities echoed off the walls. Property crashed and broke. Physical and emotional bruises colored all 3 of us.
As my husband continued to manage the meltdown, I left and hid in an isolated room with tears and snot dripping down my face. If I’d been at home, I would have stayed hidden in my corner, licking my wounds, for the foreseeable future. But we weren’t at home. We were at a family camp for kids on the spectrum. A camp that our family was leading. And it was 5 minutes before lunch, followed by our final gathering, which I was meant to lead. I wanted nothing more than to skip out on it.
And then I asked myself why? Why did I want to hide?
When honest with myself, I realized I wanted to hide because as much as I proclaim the power of vulnerability, as much as I am vulnerable with my stories and words, I fear real vulnerability.
I fear actually showing my messy emotions. It’s one thing to cry a little bit in front of others, but to sob and hijacked by uncontrollable emotion? That’s not me.
I was the leader. I can share my stories of emotions, but to actually let people into the messiness and see it firsthand. Umm . . . no thank you.
I fear people will doubt my knowledge, my wisdom, my professional voice. I fear people will see a weak, uncertain, fraud who pretends to have answers but really is lost and confused and a bad parent.
I fear people will see my tears as weakness. I fear people will think, “well if she really understood autism, she would have prevented her daughter’s meltdown” or “if she’s actually grieved as she encourages us all to, she wouldn’t cry and be discouraged with a single meltdown.”
During this particular meltdown, my flipped daughter continuously yelled, “don’t touch me!” and “get out!” We couldn’t leave because she was unsafe. We only were touching her when we needed to protect ourselves or her. Yet, I feared facing the other parents and presumed they would believe we were hurting our daughter behind closed doors.
So, I tried what I encourage everyone to do and what I truly believe is the only way to get the kind of life we want, I stepped into my fear and I allowed myself to be fully vulnerable. I came out of my hiding place with my eyes red, still on the verge of tears, and feeling bruised up and battered.
I saw my friend and immediately the tears started running again. She shooed our boys in to wash their hands and simply hugged me. Tight. And I sobbed on her shoulder and clung to her. She said nothing. She didn’t need to. She understood. I felt stronger as I relied on her strength.
Taking a few deep breathes I dried my tears again and walked into the common area. Another mom of a boy with autism saw me, opened her arms and said, “Oh, I know. It’s so hard sometimes.”
As I sat at lunch, eyes brimming with occasional tears, I saw looks of solidarity from the other parents, and looks of compassion from the staff who were working the camp but had limited experience with autism. I grew stronger, more peaceful, and less alone. I received tangible proof that my imposter voice is inaccurate. I learned that true leadership includes true vulnerability. I learned that I can trust other people to be there when I fall apart.
Let people in. Be brave and show them the tears and the snot and the red eyes and the bruised ego. Be truly vulnerable and you’ll truly feel stronger than ever.