Updated: Aug 9, 2019
''The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.''
— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Among many things that are true of the human condition in general and men in particular, is the fact that we are broken. Not insecure, not immature, and certainly not just needing to learn how to be better...
No — all men are broken.
The world does indeed break everyone, and it begins to do so when we are too little to know it. The world looks at the pure, innocent heart of a boy — it does so through the eyes of a teacher, a parent, a stranger, or a peer — and it scoffs..or worse.
The world has also been known to beat, rape, and even kill.
At the very best, the world rejects: it rejects our talents, our heroism, and our innocence; scars of rejection are carried by us all...
A boy is mocked by his own father and his very being is pierced to the core with rejection; he believes its poisonous message and in his mind, affirms it with something even worse then the rejection itself: self-rejection.
And what of the things that are darker? If children are hurt by not being cherished, appreciated, and affirmed in who they are, what of those who have suffered true horrors?
Yes, we are all broken — there are just different degrees of brokenness.
* * *
I could not name my sadness at the time; I was too little.
I could not see that my fear, anxiety, and the deep, rattling insecurity, were not normal at all.
I could not put words to the cold emptiness that surrounded me at home, when I was in the presence of those who loved me most...
I did not know that they too, were broken, and that their hearts were shattered beyond recognition.
* * *
'I cried when I was born', wrote George Herbert once, 'and every day shows why.'
Indeed it does. The world, and all who live in it, have once cried tears of pain, sorrow, or regret — or are certain to do so at some point in the future; so how can we think that we have somehow escaped this (literally) heart-breaking reality?
The condition of the broken inner being — the heart, as I call it — is within us all; we are all sufferers.
Years and decades of slow erosion of hopes, dreams and aspirations, the soul-deep cutting of violence and abuse, the lack of attention, touch, and affirmation — it all damages the spirit, it all breaks the heart.
And it all creates deep hunger: it fuels hidden compulsions, lusts, and cravings.
* * *
If we take this to be true, then, and acknowledge that we are all damaged, broken, and hurting inside, we must then allow ourselves to look toward another reality...
We must look at the ways in which we have dealt with that pain.
The pain is present: there is no doubt. But what are we doing with it?
The answer, according to years of painful experience, is this:
We medicate it. We numb it. Using food, work, sex, or hobbies — things that are not bad by themselves — we try to fill the gaping hole within, to heal the pain that would not go away...
Some crave intimacy, and try to fill the void with sex.
Some long for safety, and control their world and those who share it with them.
Some try to flee their pain, and numb themselves with drugs.
Some try to flee their weakness, and are obsessed with being strong.
Some feel no worth at home, and hide behind their work.
Some long to be affirmed in who they are, and seek approval from the outer world...
* * *
Long is the list of human addictions, and deep is the brokenness of men. And so, if we want to move toward being the men we want to be, we must first admit these two things to ourselves:
We are all broken.
We are all addicted.
The first statement needs no defending; the second needs an honest look.
Ask yourself, if you will — what are my addictions?
What are the things that, you would rather die, than see them taken away from you?
To me, for decades, one of these things was sex.
Another was keeping my body fit and muscular.
Yet another was keeping my mind busy with reading, watching, listening — I did not want to be alone with it!
These three I first mentioned, they have always been the main ones; yet, many others followed them closely:
Cocaine — it removed the veil of shame and, at least for a little while, it released me into being much closer than the man I wanted to be: confident and expressive.
Chocolate — it comforted me, all the time.
Approval from others — it maintained the feeling that I belong, and I am at last accepted in the world that once rejected me.
The drive and the desire to know all the answers — it satisfied the wounded boy inside me, and told him that he at least has something to be good at...
Broken, all of us. Broken.
Yet, there is hope — at least for those who are too tired to run from their pain and medicate it with addictions.
We must go the opposite way. We must ask ourselves not only what our addictions are, but, most importantly, what pain are we medicating with them...
Because, you see, pain doesn't have to have the final word. We can face our wounds, and not only survive, but actually be healed as well.
Imagine that... Healed. Restored. Free to live.
And strong. At last, strong.
Strong in the broken places.
Sound good, doesn't it?
But not too good to be true — not for those who are brave enough to turn around and face that which they have been running from.
Courage — you are brave.
With much respect,