Blog Archives

On Brokenness

Sometimes I congratulate myself on what I’ve managed to accomplish despite the shaky ground under my feet. I have a masters degree, and I have published literary work in respected journals. I have published two poetry chapbooks, and have been told by numerous people how my poems and other writing have moved them. I can pay my bills and feed myself. I have not ruined myself with alcohol or drugs, and despite the fact I weigh more than is socially acceptable, I’m mobile and active in the world. Instead of congratulate, I should say I marvel at myself. How can I be so broken and still accomplish so much?

That question originally read “feel so broken” instead of “be so broken.” I changed it because I don’t feel broken day after day. It’s more that I observe the way I react to situations—a certain look from a coworker, a father and daughter interaction between two strangers, my day dreams—and that tells me, yes, this wound or that wound is not quite yet healed. There are days I do feel broken—when I’m depressed or manic, when every interaction, even the kind ones, feels like a lash against raw skin. But brokenness for me is about more than my emotions; it’s about seeing the patterns of behavior that are reactive, that escape from me into the world unbidden. In some ways, brokenness is a habit that I haven’t yet been able to give up entirely though I know its no good for me.

The brokenness that comes from emotional abuse is not a clean break. It’s a series of fissures that seem to never completely heal. Some of the wounds become less painful; some even appear to scab over completely. But my wounds are like a lake that you might presume to be completely frozen over, given the look of it. Yet too much pressure in the wrong place and you are plunging down down into the icy water, which steals your breath and—if you cannot resurface in time—steals your life.

Or brokenness is like lava flowing under what appears to be solid, ancient rock, bubbling to the surface with such force and such heat that the rock melts instantly, and there is the wound you thought you’d so assiduously and carefully dressed, screaming red and splintering you into a puzzle of jagged pieces you’ve no map for putting back together.

In movies before the icy surface gives away or the lava breaks through the rock bridge you’re fleeing across, you always hear the splinters forming the moment you accidentally step on the weak spot. But it’s not like that in real life. It’s more like that time when after you sit in your therapist’s office, sobbinb, you head home, with perhaps a stop for ice cream or a bottle of wine, finding solace in the fact that you have dug into a particular wound without permanently injuring yourself. Until you find yourself at work the next day, an ordinary day filled with ordinary tasks, and there you are suddenly in an empty office around noon, shaking and wailing uncontrollably, repeating to your (panicked) co-worker over and over, “But my mother didn’t love me.” Brokenness likes nothing better than to flash a big smile and greet you with a big sucker punch.

I don’t know how to end this blog post. I’ve deleted this last paragraph several times and can’t quite get to the end of this particular story. And perhaps that’s the truest metaphor of all.

At the Broken Places

The scar from my abdominal surgery is six inches long, snaking vertically upward from the top of my  pubis, listing left diagonally across the twin fatty folds of my belly, just missing my navel before petering out. The skin is puckered, that dull shiny pink of new scars. On either side of it, my belly fat hangs misshapen, one side hanging much lower than the other, a graphic ghost of where the tumors used to be. The incision itself doesn’t hurt, though the areas around it seem always on the edge of soreness. Still, it’s sound. I’m all knitted together and no longer in danger that lifting the wrong thing, or stretching too high will undo the surgeon’s work. True, when I overdo it, I do get sore inside, but it’s uncomfortable not outright painful.

I’ve been thinking about this scar a lot. How, somehow, my belly has knit itself back together. Sure there has been help from the surgeon, rows and rows of stitches inside me, and surgical glue to hold the very top layers together, but within this scaffolding, the cells have known to grow back toward each other, not the same as before, messy and not pretty, but whole. I can’t help but think of other scars, the ones made by harsh words, broken promises, all those that walked away or refused to show up. We all want to “return to normal” after these wounds, but I’m realizing that every wound permanently scars us, and some show more than others.

But though we may have scars, we don’t remain broken. We may not always be pretty at the wound sites, and there may be residual pain, but—with God’s grace, with the willingness to be scaffolded by the love of those who persistently show up—we can, like our bodies, return to whole.

%d bloggers like this: