On Brokenness

Broken. What the word meant before, why I avoided it, and why I’m ok with using it again. CW: Sexual assault

Growing up reformed Christian (Presbyterian Church of America, read: Calvinist), the word “broken” came up an awful lot. It was in many sermons. It was the subject of many Sunday School lessons. Heck, it even made its way into lots of worship songs. “Brokenness,” with other lovely Christianese words like “humble, lowly, hungry, naked, empty,” and the like became almost filler words, describing our “state before Christ.” Or was it our current state? It was never really clear. “Already and not yet” or whatever.

“Humanity is basically evil” was spouted all over, but never really dissected in any meaningful way. It was just…accepted. More or less, I was given the impression that people were awful creatures (they certainly CAN be, let’s be real), and that only those of us who were “fixed” were ok. (Cue Coldplay’s “Fix You”) But don’t forget that you WERE/ARE? still basically EVIL.

Leaving the church world, I realized that the word “broken” had a profound impact on how I viewed myself. When a child is constantly trained to believe that there’s nothing of inherent value to themselves, and that all value has to come from outside, via god or what have you, that starts to get internalized in a pretty disturbing way. Certainly, as a queer person, this attitude of “brokenness” was translated into how I viewed that part of myself. It led me to believe that my sexuality was evil. That it needed fixing. That I, in my gayness, was incredibly broken. No wonder people pursue conversion therapy, with this attitude.

For this reason, I left that word behind. I’m not in need of “fixing.” In classic and unsurprising pendulum swing, I decided that I was just fine the way I was, and that “broken” was a toxic word that had no place in my life. It worked for a while. The positives of seeing value in myself were clear right away. I think this mindset was very helpful…for a time.

But here’s the thing. I can break. I can have breakdowns. I can feel “broken” from time to time. And I’m starting to believe that it’s ok to reclaim that word again. The difference is that this “brokenness” is not a constant state, not an inevitability, not a shameful distortion of what “should be.”

This past month or so, I’ve often felt like I’ve been breaking. I’ve had more than one “breakdown.” But this form of breaking feels so very different, and much more real. Rather than some abstraction that was used to contrast with an unseen god who merely decided to fix (some of) us, I’m seeing very real signs of things that a very broken about our world. It’s not about sex, or sin, or eternity. It’s about what’s in front of us right here, right now.

I’ve felt the brokenness of the world around me. Friends, lovers, family, strangers, all crying and hurting and breaking. Racism and transphobia have been rampant all around, and I don’t think it’s been lost on anyone that we’re collectively grieving over the harsh realities of sexual assault and just how normalized it is. This is just to name some very egregious examples, but in my own life, I’ve felt these things personally as well.

I haven’t had the chance or the strength to write a #whyIdidntreport, but for the first time in my life, I’m at least claiming that I am a survivor of assault. I’m coming to grips with what this means for me, and the reality that a part of me quite honestly did “break.” (And this is from someone who carries quite a bit of privilege in this world. People are more likely to believe me, to give me space to talk, and to be more than my assault story.) That brokenness has come to the surface, and in some cases, has manifested in anger and hurt, directed both inward and outward. I’ve allowed myself to feel this anger, but I think it’s probably time to at least begin moving forward, before that anger turns into a fire I can’t put out.

But instead of accepting this as a reality of a world that only a god can fix, I am taking this as a responsibility. A reality to hold closely and delicately. To acknowledge and treat with care. This is how it is. But it’s not all it can ever be. We are capable of breaking. But that doesn’t make us useless. And it doesn’t mean we don’t try to heal.

I don’t have any magic words or healing power. At least not yet. But healing starts with acknowledging that brokenness exists. It may exist in a different way than I believed or perceived in the past, but I can at least start on myself. I can start by rooting out the ugliness inside me, the places I’ve been complicit with the broken systems of power that continue hurting people, and coming back to a place of love. Love for myself, and love for others. I’m not quite there yet, at least not completely, but I think I’m ready to take the first few steps.

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