Am I broken?

The things that have been done to me have left me a wreck. Can I ever heal?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 31, 2011 12:30AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I feel broken. Quite damaged. I've had a really rough life, that has been really ugly and violent. Most of the things that have happened to me really have been out of my control. But I want some control now and I have no idea how to get it. I know this is vague. I guess it's just a desire to float an idea out there without being too specific. I'm a good person. I am a mother to two beautiful children and I think I am a good mother. I am a good friend. I am a good sister. A good wife. I feel strongly that I am an innately good person. Fun to be around. Confident. Witty. Smart. Reliable. Outgoing.

But I feel broken. I was raped as a child. Then raped as a teenager, repeatedly, for years and years. Raped in public, while I bled and bled. Forced to have an abortion under the sustained threat of violence and death. My father saw me being held at knife point. Knife at my throat and he left me in the basement of his house. My mother has called me a liar again and again, despite so much of this taking place in front of other people. In front of her. There is a part of me that is so wounded, I just don't know if it will ever heal. I want to heal and be whole again. Undisturbed. Unmolested. Just me. Funny, confident, silly, happy, charming, musical, social me. Instead, I've tried to accept the fact that none of this will ever be properly acknowledged. I'll never be able to express the full extent of the horror of what happened. I won't get that acknowledgment. Instead, I see my parents most weekends and they come and visit my children. They have a good relationship. I try to understand why they did the things they did and I can't understand their behavior. Their cruelty. Are they sadists? Pedophiles themselves? Did they just not understand or see what was right in front of them?

I've seen therapists, but I haven't really gotten anywhere. I'm not even sure what I'm asking. I guess I'm asking, how does one heal? Am I broken?


Dear Broken,

If you are broken you can be mended. If you feel terror you can feel peace. If you are a good mother you can raise good children. If you yourself were not protected you can still protect others. What happened to you in the past does not have to happen to you in the future. What happened to you does not have to happen to others. If your parents cannot understand it, other people can. If you feel alone, there are others who have been through the same thing. If you are sad, or dizzy, or exhausted, or panicked, there are many others who feel the same way and have survived. If you have made it this far, you can keep going. If your children are safe now, they can be safe in the future.

You want to heal and be whole again. "Undisturbed. Unmolested. Just me. Funny, confident, silly, happy, charming, musical, social me." You can have these things. But you cannot undo the past. You can have these things in this world. But this is the world in which all those other things happened, too. You cannot change the past. But you can accept it.

You can give yourself the acknowledgment of what happened. In fact you may be the only one who can do this. Even if the world embraced you it would not be enough. It would be good and it would be just but you would still have to heal. You would still have to give yourself the love you deserve.

It's possible that one day there will be some moral glimmer from those who seem now to be content to have let this happen. But their fate is their fate. You do not need that from them. What you need to recognize is that the universe does contain such unimaginable cruelty and we humans are charged to labor under that knowledge.

You can exist with this. To say that in your work with therapists you got nowhere is not exactly true. You got to this point. This may not be where you want to be but you are not finished. You have not stopped. What you have done so far has gotten you here. That is not overly rosy. It is just objective. You might not be at this point if you had not spent that time. Your progress is probably too slow for you. Of course it is. But it is progress. You cannot set the pace of it. Such things are beyond all human power. But if you can find a new and amazing therapist, someone who makes your heart leap like a lover, someone whom you would trust with your life and your secrets, someone you can abandon your sorrows to, someone compassionate and patient who will sit with you as you keep reviewing the horrors and keep reviewing the horrors, perhaps someone who will also perform trauma desensitization techniques such as EMDR, I believe you can improve. Of course you can improve. I see similar things in my life and I see people improve. It is not a rescue off a rock by a helicopter. It is more like you stay on the rock and make it habitable. And then one day you are strong enough to climb down.

As long as you have a mind and a heart you can improve. You are alive and in motion. The past and its traumas are always receding. The future comes to you each day like a gift. You are a child of this mysterious, kind, cruel universe and have not been forsaken. You belong on this planet.

What happened was an abomination but it can be survived. You can live with this.

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What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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