What to do When You’re Broken
This was a year I felt pretty broken.
Shattered, in fact, at least in the love department. Especially in the self-love department.
It happens. My ex had opened my guts yet again on my birthday in January just as I landed in Indonesia. For anyone who doubts that emotional trauma can make you sick, kindly, let’s talk.
I ended up in and out of hospitals, got shuttled through six different urologists. I was really really sick. Ruined my trip, locked me into a small apartment inches away from a toilet. One night, famously (at least in my little life) I had to pee more than 200 times between 9 pm and about 8 am, which meant that all I could do was sit on the toilet with my computer on my lap. All night long. These days I find that pretty funny but at the time, kindly, it was hard to get the humor in the situation.
Let’s talk about how being broken, really and truly heartbroken, can make you ill. Severe emotional trauma can do some righteously ugly things.
It took a while before the docs and I sorted the problem out, I could fly home and we finally found a few things that worked. Didn’t solve the issue. It’s better-managed (aloe vera gel pills, interestingly, and I’ve had to forfeit tea, coffee, strawberries, citrus and a host of other beloved foods). I can untether myself from the toilet, as it were.
Emotional trauma sucks. Been there. But that was just the beginning this year.
The medical community is only just now beginning to realize and accept that massive emotional trauma can lead to many, many kinds of chronic illnesses, from myofascial pain to migraines. Many of you can relate. I can walk back nearly every chronic issue I’ve had to a specific event or series of events. The body is nothing if not eloquent.
The medical community’s response has for most of us been up to this point, you’re hysterical. Sure we are.
In some ways it was downhill from there. For a while at least.
I lost one of my closest, longest-lasting friends. My efforts (clumsy as they might have been but honest) to set reasonable boundaries got me a vicious response, which revealed an aspect of that person’s personality that I suspected. I’d rather not have been right, but there you are. That hurt.
Ouch. With that went my Christmas home, the one place during the year where I used to feel welcomed during the often-difficult holidays. Whoosh. Done. Back to an empty house during Christmas.
I went on what was supposed to be The Big Gift to myself, four weeks of wilderness riding in Canada. For whatever reason four other riders- all rank rookies, who had no fucking business being on those trips and who were bullies and gaslighters to the nines- decided that I was their handy target. That’s a whole other story. It was a butt-ugly trip- not from the scenery or the horses, which were amazing- but just those four folks. I sank twelve grand into that experience and by the end, I could not wait to get away from those people. That ruined a big chunk of my summer, and I came home with a body that was badly battered and bruised. My body felt like my heart, having been shoved through a meat grinder. No way to heal.
However when I got back, my coach pointed out my propensity for avoiding setting boundaries with bullies. That has since forced me to deal with my fear of rejection if I stand up for myself, and begin to exercise a brand new muscle when others try to muscle me aside either in my own body or in geography that I own: my life, my work, my home and my personal life. Hard work. But necessary.
You see the trend. This was a rough year. Sometimes we have a day in the barrel, sometimes we have a week. A month. A whole year. For whatever reasons we draw circumstances and people to us which are the authors of considerable pain. We feel- as I did- broken, shattered, and righteously damaged. It is exceedingly tempting to want someone to wrap me up in a big bawling ball, kiss my boo boos and tell me it’s gonna be fine, I’ll take care of it.
But here’s the kicker and the whole point: it is NOBODY ELSE’S JOB TO PUT ME BACK TOGETHER AGAIN.
When we spend time broken, it is our job to spend even more time healing ourselves. This is the very definition of sacred work.
That’s my job. Just as it is yours. The hope, expectation and the monumental romantic lie that there is a Perfect Someone Out There who can “fix us, make us whole” is just that: an horrific lie.
But boy does it sell a lot of music. Movies. Romance novels. Products. Plastic surgery. You get it.
That Medium piece the other day brought a lot of this up. I’m not criticizing the piece, which is quite beautiful. I have a problem with the beliefs that inform the poetry.
The Medium story in question here, which contains the conceit that you and I should fall in love with someone else who puts it all to rights, is the underlying dishonesty of all popular romantic love notions. Nobody else can do that for us. Why?
Because they too are broken. Of course they are. All of us are broken in some way. The burdens we carry are ours, and they are also the challenges and problems with which we are gifted in order to become who we were always meant to be. The very struggle to right the ship that is us is the very work that allows us to fall in love with ourselves. Become whole. Recognize that all such work is precisely what makes us unique and special and, kindly, worth loving.
If someone else solves all our life’s problems, then we didn’t do the work. By definition they have stolen that work from us. Guaranteed, you will create some other magnificent messes in your life. We will keep creating those same messes until we get it. Whatever it is.
Why? Because it’s our job to do our work. You cannot do the deep, sacred work that another soul has to do to evolve any more than they can carry your burden.
When you are old enough, you begin to notice that the same stuff shows up over and over. It’s embarrassing, because each time it does, we say with great conviction, I’ll never do X again.
The Universe/Goddess/God breaks out in a horse laugh and then rains on your punkin head the same shit you thought you would never do again. Because that is your work. Your job.
Until you do. Because X is what you showed up to learn. That lesson, as it were, will continue to pop up like an evil Whack-a-Mole. Each of us has themes. Mine is rejection. My story, if you will. We all have some internal narrative that we work very hard to be right about, until at some point we figure out that negative narrative. Noticing it isn’t enough. That’s just the first step. Noticing does little more than give us the signpost.
The rest of our lives we get to do the work to rewrite that narrative. We can have collaborators, loves, coaches, friends and family, but not a single one of those people can erase any part of it.
As much as I love the movie Princess Bride, and I dearly love Robin Wright, this line speaks to the heart of the problem:
Westley has his own problems. I liked Wright a lot better in Wonder Woman, as a mature badass general. She owned her shit; as Buttercup she was waiting for someone else to fix her. I love mature, sober, sane female role models. I keep hoping I’ll eventually be one. I’d better hurry up here.
The notion that there is that Special Someone out there who make us whole, our “other half,” our soul mate is little more than a continuation of the lie that there is some Great Guru, some savior who will save us from ourselves. Religion banks on that conceit, the idea that someone else will make life ever so much easier.
That, brokenness, the isolation from our Source, is our job. It’s why we’re here. To evolve. What is sacred in us, what animates us, is God/Goddess. Waking up to that is indeed what saves us. Learning to love, forgive, laugh and at with our aching humanity, our failures, our ridiculousness and what makes us magnificent, is the whole point.
Where others come in, and that too is sacred work, is to be our mirrors. To listen, support, offer compassion and empathy.
But not to carry the loads that are ours to carry.
Here are some of the words that I found most striking from the article:
It’s your other half and your missing pieces and everything in between.
It has saved you.
It has rescued you from the painful shackles you didn’t know you could ever escape from.
You are healed. You are whole again.
You will love on this soul until you literally can’t breathe anymore. When you find this soul, you know it. There is no other way to describe it. You. Just. Know. And when you do know, never ever let go.
There is no “other half.” You and I do not need to be rescued. The shackles that we wear are those we put on ourselves. The only person who has the key to them is us. As humans we are always and forever looking outside ourselves for answers. An Invisible Man in the Sky. Some Perfect Love/Lover/Partner/Friend/Mommy/Daddy.
We are whole now. We were never anything but whole. It is your job and my job to discover this.
We embody the entire Universe in our selves, our cells, our hearts and minds. That we don’t understand this, that we don’t live this, is why we’re human. To discover it. We are sovereign. I like this piece by Shari Bagwell which speaks to the role of DNA and trauma. Life is all about discovering our sacredness through our physicality and our time on this marble. What a gift.
You and I have to “come for ourselves.” Westley’s way too damned busy dealing with his own demons. If we’re lucky, by the time he does show up all battered and bruised, he too will be far more whole. Putting two woke folks together is something else. That’s not our habit. Which is why divorce rates are so high and we keep on looking in all the wrong places. As in, outside ourselves.
While the journey can be righteously difficult, if you and are going to be happy, we have to do it on our own merits. That doesn’t say eschew love. It does say drop the expectations that someone else is going to complete you. Because that expectation, guaranteed, will lead to bitterness, resentment, and anger.
By the same token, and this will flat ruin the economy, no thing, no belonging, no purchase, no nothing physical that you can buy, beg, borrow or steal will complete you either. No ten pounds less, no perfect face, no gorgeous gown or gracious McMansion will do the trick. Moving to the Pacific Northwest isn’t going to fix me, either, although that is a culmination of a long dream.
It’s an inside job, pure and simple.
What you and I can do for each other is offer safe harbor for another’s struggles. To be supportive, to stand by, to bear witness. Help each other laugh off what hurts. But we cannot. Do. Their. Work.
For the real love in life, for me, for you and anyone else, is to come to the realization of our own value, our sacredness. When we do that, we bring the true fullness of available love to someone else. The completed person, if you will. Not a set of busted plate pieces seeking Gorilla Glue.
While it is one hell of a lonely journey sometimes, what I’ve finally embraced is that everything that happens to me is mine. Mine alone. My sadness, my joy, my journey. How I feel about those things, whether I weave the victim tale of struggle porn, how badly I need to be saved from myself, or whether I see each as a chapter in a remarkable life, an opportunity to challenge my assumptions and rewrite my internal narrative, those are up to me.
That also determines what I can bring into a new friendship. A new love, should that happen. I would not wish to burden a new lover with the semi load of shit that I have created for myself. He didn’t sign up for that. And he can’t fix it. He doesn’t have the tools, any more than I can fix whatever busted pieces he has from his parents or previous relationships.
If I am brave enough to pull back to the 35,000' foot level, I realize that at all times I embody all that I could possibly ever need. Every resource I require is inside me. That journey is to discover what I embody, how rich those resources truly are, and how infinite. For they are. If I experience myself, my spirit, my capacity for love in this case, not my body, as infinite, then what I have to offer others in my life is also infinite. It doesn’t come with conditions.
So I am going to lift those lines from the story again, with a twist (and an apology to the author):
My soul is an expansion of myself, like I have been split down the middle, and now this, this is my soul finding its other half. You never knew it was possible to love a heart you’ve never held, your own, but now you are hugging yourself, and you can’t move from the shock, from the pure delight. It’s your other half and your missing pieces and everything in between.You have healed yourself.
YOU have saved yourself.
You have rescued yourself from the painful shackles you didn’t know you could ever escape from.
You are healed. You are whole, as you always were but didn’t know it.
You will love yourself until you literally can’t breathe anymore. When you embrace yourself, you know it. There is no other way to describe it. You. Just. Know. And when you do know, you have so much more to give.
With respect to Jacqueline Whitney, who penned the original, whom I thank for the inspiration, but respectfully and with care, disagree with the original premise.
This was a tough year. And as such, as sacred a gift as I could have wished. I have added extraordinary new friends. I have found peace in myself. Permission to love, laugh and make light of the shit I carry. Those are steps towards mastery. Small ones, but mighty. I do not expect others to love me more than I can love myself. I stand on the precipice of a brand new year, about to take flight.
Lighter, happier, and more complete. At a very, very different and far better emotional place than this time last year. I can’t wait to see what being 67 will bring.
That’s love. The Best. Love. Ever.
With deep appreciation and acknowledgement to Margaret Kruger, Ann Litts, Kris Gage and so many other Medium writers who have generously shared their journeys, wisdom, humor and love with the rest of us, and privately with me. Those are the gifts under my virtual tree this year.