Today, I’m pleased to share Autism Home Rescue’s first-ever guest post from Caroline McGraw! Caroline is a would-be childhood paleontologist who digs for treasure in people. Her younger brother, Willie, has autism, and she writes about finding meaning in the most challenging relationships at A Wish Come Clear.
It takes a great deal of courage to say, as Cathy did, “My child is the biter.”
It’s hard when your brother is the biter (and the bruiser, the head-banger, the one who punches holes through walls). It’s hard when you’re living next door to him, and you don’t feel safe enough to fall asleep at night.
But harder still is the feeling of disconnection, the fear that the person you once knew is gone forever. That, more than the cuts and bruises, triggers anger. Anger that wells up inside you and threatens to explode. If you’re like me, you never thought you could feel such anger.
And you never thought you’d feel such paradoxical desires; one moment, you’re wishing that this violent person would disappear, and then next, you’re thinking that you’d do whatever it takes if only it would offer that person some comfort, some respite from their self-injurious and other-injurious behavior. You want to give up hope … and you want to believe that love can overcome all obstacles.
In my first book, Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive), I share a story that encapsulates that paradox:
“Once upon a time, when I was a teenager, I got so angry with my brother Willie (and his erratic, sometimes- violent behavior) that I smashed an antique guitar to smithereens. (If it helps, it was an old, ratty guitar, not a collector’s item.) This guitar had been given to my brother by my grandparents. After a particularly difficult evening at home, I walked upstairs, saw the guitar and simply started smashing it against Willie’s wooden bed- frame. I was so, so angry. I so, so badly wanted him to stop acting crazy. I wanted him to change back into the brother I knew.
After, I felt bewildered, astonished…and relieved. While the wood was splintering and the strings were snapping, I’d realized … I could not change him. I could not change my parent’s decisions. I was powerless to change any of those things, but I’d done something that I needed to do. I’d released some anger that I needed to release.
I’d stopped fixating on what I wanted to change about him and started letting myself feel what I felt.
Ironically, this was the first moment in ages at which I could feel empathy for my brother, who had so much rage inside of him. It was small, but it was a beginning. Amidst the shards of a broken guitar, I took my first step on the road to loving my brother as he was, not as I wished he would be. ”
I’ve walked much farther on my journey since then; I’ve built a stronger relationship with my brother and with many other remarkable, differently-abled adults. And in the process, I’ve come to see that the beautiful thing about acknowledging hard truths is that the telling can set you free. When you say, “My child is the biter,” or, “My brother is the violent teenager who got kicked out of school, the one who makes me so mad I actually smashed a musical instrument to pieces,” you’re acknowledging the difficulty and struggle and pain, but you’re still putting your relationship first. Even in your darkest hour, you’re still saying, “My child,” and “My brother.”
Whether you’ve thought consciously about it or not, you’re communicating that the person you care for is more than their behavior, more than their current difficulties. You’re saying that your love for that person is bigger than whatever challenge you’re facing together.
Some days, it hurts to believe it. And other days, it feels like the only thing worth holding on to. Regardless of what kind of day today is for you, know that you are not alone, and that your care of one person has more power than you can ever know.
To read the rest of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive), visit Caroline at A Wish Come Clear; the 60+ page guide for caregivers is free to all who elect to receive posts via email.