The other week, my 5-year-old daughter broke her arm at the elbow. It was a serious break which required a call to 911, an ambulance ride, surgery, and an overnight stay at the hospital.
As her mom, I felt helpless. I couldn’t make her pain go away. I couldn’t fix her broken arm. So I simply put my head next to hers, and told her that I was here, and I wouldn’t leave her. That was the mantra I repeated over and over. And it was enough.
We humans break easily.
And I’m not talking simply about bones. Our feelings get hurt. Our self-esteem is fragile. We hurt each other with words and actions. We bully each other, steal from one another, gossip, verbally abuse, and assault those around us. We hurt ourselves by what we do. We cut or burn ourselves, neglect our health, abuse food and drugs, and engage in reckless behavior.
Others abuse us and neglect us. People who should love us hurt us. Sometimes simply getting through one day to the next takes an incredible amount of courage and strength.
When people come to therapy, they often see themselves as hurting and broken. People don’t come for counseling when they’re feeling great and on top of the world. They come when they’re in pain. When I entered graduate school, I wanted to become a therapist so I could help people who were hurting. I wanted to solve problems, give answers, and make things better, to take away pain. It didn’t take me long to realize that this wasn’t possible. My job was not about fixing, but about guiding, supporting, and listening.
Everyone — everyone — is broken. There is not a human on this earth who has not hurt, who is not damaged, or is not in pain. We don’t hurt in the same way, of course. And some people have suffered traumas that are hard to fathom.
At times, the pain of life can seem too much to bear. A husband leaves. A child dies. Rape, assault, incest, drug abuse, disasters… all of these things hurt us to our core. And at times, all we can do is sit, cry, and try to survive. It may feel like no one has felt hurt exactly like this; that’s true. But how do we survive? How do we get through the days, the nights, when our hurts are fresh and new and tender? The answer is that we reach out to those around us.
People are not meant to live in isolation. Since the beginning of time, humans have lived in clans, groups, and families. Close relationships were crucial to survival. They still are! When people sit alone with their pain, it morphs and magnifies. So people build walls around themselves to keep everyone out, so they won’t be hurt again. But the walls that are built are like a petri dish for suffering. With no one to help shape their reality, no one to help them heal, or to see their pain and show them that they are loved anyway, hurt grows and healing remains elusive. Walls don’t so much prevent pain from coming in as keep the pain from ever leaving.
In one of his songs, Leonard Cohen writes “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Think about that for a second. The cracks, the pain and hurt, are inevitable, but it is through them that growth happens, that light comes in. Pain will always be a part of life. But what we do with it, and how we reach out to each other, is what makes the difference. Are we focusing on the cracks, or can we see the light that they provide, light that helps us to see, that allows us to grow?
When we make the decision to open ourselves up to others when we are hurting, or reach out when we encounter someone else in pain, we begin the healing process. Others help us make sense of our suffering, support us, and remind us that, broken as we are, we are still loved. It is through connecting with people, sharing our stories, that we see ourselves as part of humanity.
I may never have broken my elbow like my daughter did, but I’ve felt physical pain and fear of the unknown. I couldn’t fix her arm myself, or drive the ambulance, or start the IV in her arm. But what I could do was comfort her, love her, and let her know that I was there.
If you’re hurting right now, know that you are not alone.
There are people who care and who will listen. It may be a family member or friend, or someone on a suicide hotline, or people on an online support group. It may be a counselor or therapist, or the friend from second grade you reconnected with on Facebook. And if you open up to one person who can’t listen, try someone else, and then another, and then another, until you find someone who can take the time to hear you. Isolation and loneliness are what pain feeds on.
Let your walls crack open, and the light come in. Allow yourself to be heard, understood, comforted. We’re all broken, but we’re also all healing. We’re all, always, healing.