Overcoming the Brokenness of a Painful Childhood

Leaving Her Behind by Penelope Przekop

This woman is not only broken … she is finally whole.

Beliefs about brokenness:

  • Some people deny or ignore their brokenness. They don’t realize that another, stronger, fuller version of themselves can exist. These folks feel “okay.”
  • Others believe they deserve some degree of pain because that’s what someone told them once upon a vulnerable time.
  • Some people think that once healed, once they are enough … the brokenness goes away; that it’s replaced. When it doesn’t disappear, they conclude that they are still not enough. With each false healing, the despair grows. Hope dwindles.
  • Still others believe God can wash away all the shattered bits and make them whole again.

At one time or another, I’ve been all those people. Now I know that everything remains; nothing ever really goes away. Brokenness or pain isn’t replaced by something new and shiny … or just okay.

Although we’d love for the bad to simply disappear, all of the pieces of our lives can ultimately fit together to create the absolute best version of ourselves. We can’t fully harness the power and strength of healing if we no longer feel the brokenness. Instead, we must find a place for it, no matter how long it takes. Perhaps we’re never truly complete until we’ve been broken and put back together. Only then can we fill the magnificent, one-of-a-kind mold our creator used to give us life.

I don’t wish sorrow, suffering or regret on anyone, but maybe those who wish or pray to have a life purged of negativity or its remains aren’t truly living. Instead, they walk through a happy story in a badly written book, something less than a three-dimensional character. I tried that, too.

The kind of pain that breaks us comes no matter what. Like a tsunami, it rushes towards us, blocking out all hope. Or like a blinding lighting bolt, it simply strikes. It’s death. It’s child abuse, rape, and mental illness. It’s disease, war, or economic collapse. It is suicide.

This is what I learned when my brother took his life. It was the deepest, most searing adult pain I’ve ever felt that was undeniably not my fault.

As much as I wanted to blame myself, I knew there was no way I could have anticipated his choice. I felt a pain so pure that had absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with someone I loved. It resurrected my deepest emotional agony, the unexplainable sorrow that defined the young life I’d shared with my brother. His suicide plucked out that raw pain, forcing me to experience it again as if I were there … with him again. But this time, as an adult, I was able to work through it and understand whose fault it was and whose it wasn’t.

As I emerged from my grief, I began to understand something new about life. I realized that it can, had, and will dump its purest, most ugly pain all over us, no matter what we do or fail to do. The bone-deep, unexplainable, at times insatiable, urge to search for and focus on reasons why I should feel bad rather than good, sad rather than happy … simply disappeared.

The heavy door in my head that I’d struggled for years to close simply vanished. The room I tried to close out was filled with guilt, the overwhelming evidence that I didn’t deserve anything happy and good and right. My developing childhood brain created the room based on an inaccurate, illogical perception of guilt before the age of ten. As a teenager, I created its door and never stopped fighting to keep it closed.

With the door gone, I could finally enjoy the blessings of my life without feeling that I’d somehow been gifted them by mistake. That it would be wrong to accept them; that I live a life I didn’t deserve. I could finally accept that sorrow is okay; it’s a normal response to the shocking suicide of your only sibling as well as any form of child abuse. I could stop being ashamed of my pain, denying it, burying it, turning it into something else that seemed more logical. The room held the pain of my childhood.

Just as those who grew up in well-balanced, “good-enough” homes, those of us who suffered any type of child abuse are meant to enjoy and love life, and live fully. We don’t need to search out or create adult reasons for the punishment we think we deserve because as children we failed to hold back the gigantic frightening tsunami that ripped through our families every single day.

The heavy waves of pain I swam through as a child were a form of horror-filled grief for which I deeply blamed myself. I only wish my brother had known that door to that room inside his head was a trick of the mind and that he, too, deserved happiness … the love of his children, the love of a sister, the soft flutter of leaves in the wind, the sun upon his beautiful face.


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