I speak about things like growing up with violence and addiction because these things are not often spoken and I want to break through stigmas and stop the silencing that comes from shame. I speak because I want children to see grownups talking about these things so they might know that it is okay for them to speak about them too. I speak so that anyone has had an experience like mine might know that they are not alone.
But for a long time I didn’t speak. I thought admitting to my story would mean people would look down on me and think of me as damaged goods. So I white- knuckled my way through life and looked at feelings as if they were the enemy. I pretended I was okay, strapped on emotional armour and judged my vulnerability as weakness. Anything so I could feel powerful and in control. What I didn’t realise was that the armour that was protecting me from the painful feelings was also stopping me from being able to enjoy the good ones like joy and gratitude and connection.
When we keep our true selves hidden, hiding our challenges and messy emotions, we miss out on the opportunity to deeply connect with others. We feel lonely and isolated and like there is something wrong with us, not knowing that many other people are feeling exactly the same way.
This doesn’t just apply to people who have grown up with obvious trauma the way I did. We all have our struggles. All you have to do is look at the number of people reaching out for mental health support at the moment to see just how many of us are in distress. Yet we keep our pain to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden to others and because we feel ashamed.
No matter who you are, life leaves you with scars. But I like to think of these scars as cracks. And as Leonard Cohen said, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I also take the Kintsugi approach to these cracks. Kintsugi is a Japanese artform that takes broken pottery and glues it back together using a lacquer infused with gold. It is about celebrating, rather than hiding, the breaks, highlighting them with gold instead of trying to cover them up.
Because there is gold in these cracks. Pain is also compassion. Vulnerability is strength. Confusion is our thirst to understand ourselves and others and the world around us. All we lacked growing up can make us neverendingly grateful for everything we have in our lives now. The grief we have about our own families can drive us to make it better for other families.
When we go through periods of struggle we often tell ourselves this means we are flawed and damaged and inadequate and unacceptable. We look at other people and think they are doing everything so much better than we are. These feelings of being unworthy and unlovable can be so overwhelming they keep us isolated and stop us from reaching out to others.
But sometimes the compassionate perspective of another is just the thing we need so we can start to see ourselves as sparkling golden pieces of Japanese art rather than a broken plates.