“I have a 14 year old boy with Reactive Attachment Disorder,” a woman at the foster parent gathering began, “and I just don’t know what to do.” She described a whisper of the struggle at home, a child who cannot, will not do his one chore–the dishes.
“That’s not a RAD thing,” another woman piped up, “That’s a man thing. I have a 21 year old, 18 year old, and 16 year old, and they don’t see the dishes. They just don’t even notice them. Men just must not be wired to be aware of dishes.” She laughed and others joined in.
“Take away his allowance,” someone added.
“Find some sort of consequence he cares about.”
“Just keep doing your best.”
Well-meaning advice from good people, but she deflated before my eyes. The agony of loving a child who is incapable of returning love, the anguish of trying everything to make vital connections in a brain wired for absolute separation, the exhaustion of pretending to be helped by such banal suggestions from those who do not know her tears, her unrealized hopes, her desperation, all were laying as heavily on her as a winter coat in August, but what she chose to reveal was her frustration with his failure to do dishes. How do you tell a room of strangers what is truly going on? How can anyone reach your hurting place if you hide behind the dishes?
Sensitivity was woven into me upon my existence and elevated by living through the year of love’s casualties. Artifice has been nearly wholly stripped from my life. What you see is what you get, and I seem to often see more in others than they intend to show. Knowing the tricks I utilized to pretend I was keeping it together even as I disintegrated helps me spot others doing the same, if I am paying attention. And where I once was too fearful of overstepping my bounds to speak up, I am more inclined to look a person in the eyes and say, “I see you.” And usually, that is enough. That is what they wanted, what they needed to hear.
I see you. It is a balm for even the most dispirited soul, but it requires an opening of ourselves by which the pain of others can enter our hearts and find companionship, if only for a few moments, and who wants to feel more pain? And allowing ourselves to be seen? It is so utterly terrifying that most of us have a selection of masks we don throughout each day to keep from showing the face of our own vulnerability. I get it. I once found it easier to turn my eyes away from the shadows inside the eyes of others, from the cracks in their capable facade. And I once collected masks like I now collect mugs, which is to say I eagerly and frequently added to my stock. But I do not care to do either anymore.
The strength to see others, the bravery to hide no longer, these are the gifts from my desolation, and my life is now teeming with meaning because I was able to find them amidst the rubble of my life as I once knew it.These treasures were found in the rebuilding, in picking up the pieces scattered every which way and intentionally deciding what to keep, what to throw out, and what I wanted to add to my existence since I was starting from near-scratch anyway.
Today I want to ask you to risk being seen by someone, without a mask, in all your messiness. If you are carrying pain, choose your someone(s) wisely. You do not need to be further traumatized by revealing it to someone who will shame, mock, or gossip about you. And I want to ask you to practice seeing others. Turn your face towards their shadows, their worries, their heartaches, their disappointments, their fears, even their joys.
See and be seen. Such vision makes the world a better place.