All of us have some brokenness. It could be a broken relationship, an addiction, past trauma, a mistake, or loss. We all have it, whether it’s something we’ve done or something that’s been done to us. Brokenness can feel overwhelming and hopeless like you’re permanently messed up and beyond repair. When you find yourself in that kind of pit, there are really only three possible next steps.
It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by the hurt or the guilt that you freeze. Sometimes it can be intentional because staying stuck feels safer than putting yourself at any kind of risk again. Other times, we might not even be aware it’s happening.
Some might find themselves in their idea of rock-bottom, and give up. Maybe that’s by continuing to do whatever it is they considered a mistake in the first place. The thought process here is often something like, “I’ve already screwed up once, I might as well do it again.” When you’re feeling hopeless, motivation to change is difficult to come by.
By far the most challenging option is to move forward. These mistakes or traumas can be devastating, and when everything in you is telling you you’ve gone too far this time or you’ve become overly damaged, it takes extraordinary strength to take a step towards healing. But if we do, what follows is often something even more beautiful than before.
A Gorgeous Analogy
One of my good friends, Hannah, is a ceramics artist, and she recently told me all about one of her favorite kinds of pottery: Kintsugi. The art of Kintsugi is hundreds of years old and began in Japan with a man who broke a teacup.
Traditionally, when pottery was broken but valuable enough to be repaired, it was sent away to potters or artists who would use a rough and often dust lacquer to glue the pieces together and hold them in place with metal joints. This typically left the piece looking pretty unattractive, and very obviously worse than before.
According to legend, a man named Yoshimasa broke a teacup and sent it off for repair. Disappointed with the appearance of the repair, craftsmen began searching for an alternative. They started using a lacquer with gold powder, rather than the traditional dust and metal. When broken ceramics were repaired in this new technique, they no longer looked roughly hewn back together but looked like a new and often more beautiful piece of art, each with unique gold patterns detailing the cup or bowl. And people loved it. They loved the beauty of the gold cracks and the uniqueness that each broken plate or vase brought with it. People loved it so much, that the repaired pottery became more valuable than the originals. What was broken became more beautiful and more valuable, in the repair, in the healing.
What if we start looking at our brokenness, our past mistakes, hurts, traumas and losses, more like a Kintsugi artist might look at shattered ceramics? Not as irreparable damage or dirtiness, but as an opportunity for growth, for resilience, and for something even more beautiful to emerge.
Choosing to move forward towards healing and to look for the beauty in the brokenness, is hard. It doesn’t come naturally to us, we have to fight for it. Hannah’s favorite thing about Kintsugi ceramics is that the magnificent gold lacquer that makes the repair so beautiful is plant-based, made from a plant similar to poison ivy, (which, if you’ve never experienced, causes a terrible itchy and blistered rash). For the artist to use the lacquer, he or she has to build up a resistance to the plant, using it over and over and dealing with the painful reaction, until they’ve built up a kind of immunity towards it.
There is the pain in the repair. It requires commitment, endurance, and patience. But the artists do it because the end result is worth it.
If you are struggling with being overwhelmed by your brokenness, or with finding a way out of a past that seems to keep you stuck, the first step is reaching out. It would be a privilege to work with you in this. We are all broken, but for all of us, there is hope for beautiful healing.
Written by therapist Clair Miller