Strength in brokenness
By Adele Chapline Smith
The world breaks everyone and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”
— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Broken doesn’t mean beyond repair. I say this as someone broken by the world — and someone who is also stronger today than I once imagined I could be.
My original intent for this post was to share what happened when I was raped. When Simcha Fisher first published her blog, nearly a year ago, many of my fellow alumni from Christendom College were happy to discuss what happened to me, despite not being there, despite never hearing from me directly. Some said I had been drinking. Others questioned my motives. Others said I was lying to cover up bad grades. And I wanted to clarify what actually happened that night, to respond to these speculations, to explain my experience to those who felt qualified to comment on what happened despite not being there.
But I realized that even if I walked everyone through that night in vivid detail — even if I could recreate the entire scene with a production crew and actors, offer a play-by-play of the entire experience — some would believe me…and others still wouldn’t. People will go to such great lengths to imagine that monsters do not exist, you see.
So I will not revisit the details of what happened to me that night. Instead I will share what I experience today (9 years after that night) and every day of my life. The life of a broken person — and a strong one.
I will likely need therapy and medication for the rest of my life to deal with my depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I will practice my coping skills for when the nightmares and panic attacks try to get the best of me. I will wake up screaming in the middle of the night because earlier that day, I saw that same car on the road. I will choose the seat in the restaurant where my back is against the wall and no one can walk behind me. I will distrust men as a first response and I will fight like hell against those fears so I can have a healthy relationship. I will panic at the opening notes of certain songs. I will have to calm my heart when I am in a crowd.
And I will be okay.
I was victimized by my rapist, by my college, by a founding professor, by the whispers of students and strangers, by a sympathetic yet ultimately deeply flawed justice system. What happened to me in Shenandoah National Park at the hands of my rapist and what happened to me afterwards at the hands of my alma mater will stay with me for the remainder of my life. It permeates nearly every aspect of my life.
My rape doesn’t define me — but it has created grooves in my life that I follow. Patterns. Habits. Like tobacco, it leaves a scent that lingers long after the cigarette is done.
Some of those grooves in my life are painful and others have made me resilient. I know my worth. I know my strengths and my weaknesses and I know about a certain kind of pain that one in four women experience and that no one should ever have to. I know about brokenness and the way that sharp edges hurt not only you, but people around you, people you love dearly.
There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi, or “golden joinery,” and it is the art of repairing broken pottery. The philosophy behind the art treats the breakage and repair as an important part of the piece’s history, instead of something to hide or throw away. Seams of broken pieces are often mixed with precious metals like gold and silver, leaving the end result sometimes even more beautiful than before.
As a survivor, the concept of kintsugi reminds me of my own story. What is left to survivors is to repair our broken edges and seam ourselves together. This is the healing process. We don’t get to go back to who we were before, because our history has left its mark — but the most important thing that repaired seam tells you is that you made it. You survived.
Some of us within DVSVS and our Christendom chapter, CASC, were recently accused of being broken, and I laughed at the idea that this was some kind of criticism, because of course we are broken. Life breaks all of us. Our brokenness is a badge of courage and survival. There can be strength in brokenness and repair. And sometimes, the strongest of us have been forged from the most shattered pieces.
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DVSVS is a student-focused, survivor-driven organization dedicated to using education and advocacy to eliminate sexual violence on Catholic campuses.