(This was published before on the old blog. The way back machine could not find it, but I actually had a copy. I like this post so much and hope you do too.)
Part of my daily routine is getting up early. There isn’t much that gets done in the wee hours, but I try to gather myself and think about what the day might hold. One particular early morning, I decided to watch a movie – a Hallmark movie. So, I got out my kleenex and watched “The Russell Girl.”
It was clear from very early on in the movie that everyone was in a lot of pain, but it was unclear why. Sarah Russell, played by Amber Tamblyn, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She didn’t tell her family why, but she called her mom and said she was coming home. She pulls into her parents’ driveway, and tries very hard not to look across the street at their neighbors. And the neighbor seems very upset to see Sarah.
As the movie continues, no one wants to address the pain, and as the watcher, I didn’t really know the source of the pain. But have no fear, if you’ve ever seen a Hallmark movie, everything turned out well in the end. But the characters had to work at it. It was far from easy for any of them, but relationships had to be rebuilt and the characters had to actually say what was upsetting them and try to move through it.
Sarah does not tell her parents until almost the end of the movie that she is sick and then only does so because the neighbor is going to tell them if she doesn’t.
Many people who are sexually abused never want to tell. They feel that they are too broken to get well. And many people get stuck in the part where they feel the pain. As much as the pain hurts, it becomes part of their identity and if they are like me, they wonder what could be beyond the pain. I didn’t feel anything for a long time. I had to shut down feelings to keep going.
When I was still trying to feel, I would play the piano. I would pound it for all I was worth. Then my mother would tell me how beautifully I played and it made me want to be numb again so I didn’t have to feel the betrayal of feeling and her misunderstanding of my playing. So it became easier to be numb and push the feelings away.
When I started therapy in seminary, I finally found a therapist who could sit with all my pain. She listened to everything, but she also encouraged me to keep moving through the pain. I think the worst/best day of therapy was a day when I couldn’t stop crying. She knew I was struggling with money and she offered to get me a soda. She said I’ll pay for it. I said please, just don’t leave. And she sat back down and just sat with me.
That was all I really needed. I feel like I turned a corner that day because I felt all my emotions. I didn’t fall apart and I wasn’t broken beyond repair. And I also realized that there was more than just the pain.
Before that, I could not imagine being more than a survivor. But I was already on my way to being more than I ever imagined.
In the Russell Girl movie, Sarah’s mother asks the neighbor, “Doesn’t she want to be well?” And the neighbor replied, “I didn’t for a long time.”
It is as if we become well, we fear that no one will remember our heartache. Worst of all, there is a fear that we might forget. We might go on living and be happy and forget about the pain.
What if going on was betrayal of who I had been. Should I become who I could be and be more than broken? Probably if I had thought about that process during that counseling session, it would have been too much to bear, but the healing had already begun.
There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi. It is an art formed out of brokenness. When a tea bowl was created for the Japanese tea ceremony, it was symmetrically perfect. If the bowl was dropped, it broke and was no longer symmetric or functional. Instead of throwing out the bowl, artisans created a lacquer paste with gold flakes mixed into it and repaired the vessel’s brokenness. When the bowl is repaired, it is more beautiful than it was before. It was also often more strong than it had been before. It did not need to be broken to be beautiful, but its beauty is enhanced by the repair of its brokenness.
People in my life have loved me even when I didn’t want to be loved. They sprinkled gold flakes into my broken places and helped to make me strong. For much of my life, I didn’t think I could be loved; or strong. But I am both loved and strong. I did not need to be broken to be strong, but I was abused and it broke me. The gold flakes sprinkled in my brokenness made my scars strong and beautiful.
You are strong and beautiful as well. You did not need to be broken, but you were. It is real. It happened, but in your brokenness is strength and beauty. Fill the cracks with love, lacquer, and a little gold. Don’t let your abuser win.
Anthem, by Leonard Cohen