“Out of perfection nothing can be made. Every process involves breaking something up. The earth must be broken to bring forth life. If the seed does not die there is no plant. Bread results from the death of wheat. Life lives on lives. Our own life lives on the act of other people. If you are lifeworthy, you can take it.” ~Joseph Campbell
Head on my pillow, tears in my eyes, a list of to-dos in my brain, I felt unable to move my body. I’d worked so hard to leave behind this person who stayed in bed avoiding life. But someone’s angry words had pierced my soul, and I once again was a prisoner to my bed, my thoughts, and my anxiety.
It wasn’t so much the disagreement that stung, but the chuckles and snide “You can’t really believe that?” More than “mansplaining,” he was patronizing and questioning my intelligence.
I tried to stop the personal attacks by “setting up boundaries,” as they say. No doubt I did not express myself in a calm, clear manner, as my blood was boiling. However, I tried to protect my integrity during the argument for the first time in this particular relationship.
What now, though? Concern for the future of this relationship was what was now spiraling out of control in my head and overwhelming my thoughts.
In retrospect, the fight hadn’t left me paralyzed with anxiety; it was the new way of dealing with belittling behavior that I had allowed myself. This was unchartered territory.
I had dared to make a change in a relationship. Now, I was awash with the resulting questions about what came next and if I’d done the right thing.
Without leaving my bed, I catapulted myself out of yet another comfort zone by reaching out to a group of supportive people. Phone in hand, I scrambled to type the message before I could think myself out of it.
A few days before, a friend and I had heard author and activist Glennon Doyle speak. She encouraged the audience to speak our truths, “Blow shit up, and walk away like Wonder Woman.” So, that morning, as I licked my wounds, I told my truth to a safe audience.
Like a dog offering up his belly in a display of vulnerability, I spoke the truth of where I was. I pulled back the curtain and said life has knocked me down. Can I get a hand up? The responding support was worth the risk.
Not long after, I heard the song “This Is Me” from the movie The Greatest Showman for the first time. I rushed home and looked up the lyrical version on YouTube. I sat and absorbed the rising beat.
I read the words as Kesha belted them out. Words like “Today, I won’t let the shame sink in,” and “I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be. This is me.”
My soul surged. I sucked in the words and rhythm like air. I marinated in the meaning, replaying it over and over.
I wanted to announce my bruises too. I’ve battled depression my entire adult life; “this is me.” My latest psychologist diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder; “this is me.” No one knows about my battles with bulimia, but “today, I won’t let the shame sink in.”
I headed off to the gym with my new warrior anthem playing in my head. I’m pumped. I greet everyone with a huge smile on my face. This is my happy place.
I got to an exercise requiring balance, which I lack. My arms are flitting around being more comical than helpful. The lady next to me says, “See? You’ve worked it out!”
Wait, what is she seeing? I’m flailing around like a fish out of water, and she sees “worked it out?” This sends me back in my head thinking about the song and my story and my struggles.
I rushed home and wrote the truth about all the messiness that lies beneath what people see. I wrote about how I “worked it out” through my battles with mental illness, not despite them.
I started telling my truth and in doing so, embracing it. With every scribbled word, I accepted my wounds a little more.
I wrote about all the things that I thought I had to keep hidden in order to be presentable. My struggles had been my flaws, my “dirty little secrets.” I wanted to tidy up the pieces of my broken world before I could let anyone in.
I had it all wrong. Our scars are the proof that we are living and growing. Our strength is that we have battled with demons and are still standing.
Just look at the natural world. It transforms flaws and mistakes into beauty all the time.
The pearl starts as an intruding piece of sand. Protecting itself from the intruder, an oyster creates a thing of value.
Quartz is naturally colorless, but if iron mistakenly mixes in, it turns a beautiful purple, resulting in amethyst. The bodies of long-extinct creatures are now our fuel.
The power of the universe is on display when it turns decay into value. There are no wasted failures in nature. They are simply transformed and renewed.
What if beauty begins when the imaginary ideal is broken? What if the universe needs the messy, broken, and failed to demonstrate its power to make the defective whole? What if we have that same power to turn our battles into our beauty?
I’m convinced now of the inherent beauty of the damaged parts, and that we must resist the temptation to air brush our lives as if they are cover girls. Hiding robs us of our divine power to turn our broken pieces into something wondrous.
The broken bits don’t go back together the same way as before, though. We may have to mourn that fact. For example, life after divorce will never look the same. Mourning that loss is healthy, but shouldn’t forever immobilize.
The caterpillar has no choice but to transform into a butterfly. We, however, can impede our transformation like I did through shame, guilt, denial, and hiding. There is so much value that can come from our damaged, defeated souls if we open them up to the light.
To courageously tell our truth allows others to see the beauty and hope in the battlefield before them. We are so much more than what life has thrown our way. We are the warriors who are still standing no matter how many times we had to get off the ground. When we become vulnerable enough to illuminate our brokenness, we harness the power of the universe to create beauty out of failure.