“But you’re stronger than me.”
Those words were directed at me as I encouraged a friend to go to the mall by herself when I was unable to join her.
We were 16, maybe 17. And neither of us really understood what it meant to be strong. She couldn’t see her own strength and my supposed strength was nothing more than an illusion.
“Why don’t you just go by yourself?” I asked. “I do it all the time.”
“But you’re stronger than me,” she responded. “I’m afraid to be seen alone. You’re independent, I’m insecure.”
While I did possess some independent qualities, I was far from being secure. It’s true that I wasn’t afraid to be seen alone. But that wasn’t because I was strong, it was because I was more comfortable that way. Being alone was easier.
Alone was a comfortable place in which my flaws wouldn’t be exposed. Where my imperfections would go unnoticed. Where my socially awkward personality could go undetected. Alone was a place in which I wouldn’t have to risk speaking, only to be left feeling misunderstood.
It was my friend who was the strong one. The crises of her life often played out publicly, yet she never tried to hide anything. The turmoil of her heart and soul often erupted into public fits of rage and torrents of salty tears. Her longing and desperation were obvious. Her loneliness, heartbreaking.
But she kept showing up, her emotions and her identity completely unveiled. She kept her guard down, despite the whispers that echoed behind her back. She held her head high, and made eye contact with those who mocked her. And although she was afraid to be seen alone, she wasn’t afraid to stand alone when the painful emotions consumed her. Her suffering resulted in strength and I admired her for it.
While my friend’s inner turmoil poured out of her in very public ways, the turmoil of my own heart and soul spilled out onto the pages of my journals. Hidden. Safe.
Just like her I was lonely. Just like her I longed to be understood and was desperate to feel loved. I felt unworthy. Depressed. And scared to truly be seen. But I was never strong enough to show it.
I spent most of my life stone-faced and guarded, hiding behind a nearly impenetrable guise of self-sufficiency.
Until my pain became too much to bear. As time passed, I became the one whose inner turmoil erupted into violent displays of emotion. I hadn’t meant to let those strenuous sobs or raging rivers of tears escape from the confines of my body, but I no longer had the energy to hold it inside.
And in time, I realized that strength is not found in quiet independence, but rather it is found in uncomfortable vulnerability.
Strength is found in being seen, fully as you are, for better or worse.
Strength is found in sharing your brokenness so that healing may occur, whether it is your own or that of another.
Strength is found in exposing your own insecurities so that others might feel more secure.
Strength is found in unveiling your less-than-ideal personality traits and believing that someone will love you anyway.
Strength is found in risking embarrassment by admitting your failures and unmasking your flaws.
Strength is found in the awkward conversations that reveal your secrets and shame.
Strength is found in allowing others to see the dark spaces of your heart, mind, and soul in an effort to bring light into the darkness.
Strength and vulnerability coexist and with this knowledge, I am growing stronger each day.