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Last Updated on December 12, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
This is for all the people who are broken. You know who you are. We all have the same look in our eyes. You know the one. It’s like if sadness could stare at nothing. I’ll bet you know it well.
Here we go.
Trigger warning: I’m about to talk about some serious things, like suicide and child abuse. Please proceed with caution.
I have been told by those who know me that I can be an ass. That’s fair; I own that. It’s not my defining trait, but sometimes it’s true.
Once I was happy and personable and eager to please. But a failed career, a bankruptcy, a divorce, and a dozen years of depression and suicidal ideation has dulled the light in my eyes.
I get defensive easily. I’m reactive. I take things personally. I get triggered. I’ll bet you can relate.
Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I get sad. Sometimes I struggle with thoughts of suicide.
I live in a small town, hundreds of miles away from my family. I have friends here and there, but you know how it is when you’re past a certain age and still single.
All the people I know are married, or they have kids, or they’re married and have kids. They only have time for themselves.
Me, I have plenty of time for others. It’s just that nobody wants it.
I don’t smile as much as I used to. I am quick to anger. My sarcasm has an edge to it. I think a lot about getting even.
I’ve lost my sense of humor — my old one, anyway. It’s darker now. Bitter.
Sometimes I can’t sleep. The weight of the world makes it difficult to breathe.
I’ll bet you can relate.
Sometimes I wanna kill, Sometimes I wanna die, Sometimes I wanna destroy, Sometimes I wanna cry, Sometimes I could get even, Sometimes I could give up, Sometimes I could give, Sometimes I never give a fuckGuns N’ Roses, “Don’t Damn Me.”
Over the past decade, I’ve seen some terrible things. I’ve been a first responder. I’m now a licensed mental health counselor.
Movies get my job all wrong. Some folks do have cushy jobs in air-conditioned offices with comfortable couches. But most of us work in the trenches.
If you look hard enough, you can see bodies for miles and miles. They don’t even know they are dead.
I worked with a 5-year-old girl one time who had been raped so badly by her family members that she couldn’t help but shit and piss everywhere she went.
I’d visit her in the foster home and she’d sit on my knee. She liked to show me her dolls. She liked to play with them.
Years ago, during my first visit at a home with a troubled 14-year-old girl, she confessed to me that she was planning to kill herself later that night. She had already written a note.
Later, she gave me the noose she had made and started crying. “Will you let me help you?” I asked her.
I’ve got dozens of stories. So many broken lives, so many broken people. I see their faces at night in my dreams.
Bad things happen to good people all the time. I can accept that. The academic part of my brain can process that reality.
But it’s different when it’s a child. Nothing prepares you for it. Maybe it should all be the same. But it isn’t.
Trauma, it seems, is contagious. You can catch it just as easily as a cold. It just stays with you longer.
When you are with me I’m free– Creed, “My Sacrifice”
I’m careless, I believe
Above all the others we’ll fly
This brings tears to my eyes
Have you ever been at the bottom of such a deep dark hole that you found yourself screaming for help, only to have your words come back at you like an echo?
Have you ever felt so isolated and alone that it seemed like your friends had met behind your back and decided to shut you out of their lives?
I’ll bet you have. You’re one of the people who are broken.
After a certain age, we seem to collect tragedies. We carry them with us, these grotesque souvenirs of our various failures.
I keep mine close to me. They keep me warm at night.
Maybe you’re young — under 30, say — and you haven’t had anything horrible happen to you yet.
Don’t worry, you will.
It’s not like anyone expects terrible shit to happen. It’s not like people anticipate divorce, or miscarriages, or job losses, or trauma.
It’s not like we plan for those things.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a man in his mid-twenties. He was a client once upon a time. He was telling me about his failing marriage.
“We can’t get divorced right now,” he said. “Financially, it would devastate us.”
As if most people save up for the experience.
He was young, too. He’ll find out the hard way. We all do.
One day I came home to my four-bedroom waterfront home. I had been out of state visiting my parents.
My fiancé and my six-year-old stepson had stayed home that weekend so she could do school work.
Except that’s not what she was doing.
I came home on a Sunday evening to find moving boxes. Clothes. The bed. Furniture. Everything in boxes. My dog met me at the door.
Heidi — my dog — looked so embarrassed. Her tail was kind of cocked to one side and she approached me sheepishly, as if it were her fault that my fiancé had ended things without telling me.
We must have sat on the living room floor for hours before either one of us moved.
In the morning, the movers knocked on the door, a full hour before the coward I had been engaged to arrived to meet them.
“Where do we start?” the mover asked me.
Our home backed up to a lake. “Just put it all in there,” I said.
What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. that’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.’— J.D. Salinger, “Catcher in the Rye”
The People Who Are Broken
I have a tough time relating to people who have their shit together. I’m more comfortable with the people who are broken. I understand where they are coming from. They’re just so much more interesting to me than “normal” people.
Normal people are alien to me. They talk about things that don’t hold my interest. Vacations and stock options and preschool shopping.
I prefer to hear about conflict. I’d rather talk about loss.
Everyone deals with trauma. It’s just a matter of degree and duration and frequency. Some get more than their share, others less. It is the way of things.
Children tend to get the raw end of the deal.
If their parents get divorced, they tend to blame themselves. If their parents die, they tend to blame themselves.
If their parents beat them, they tend to blame themselves for that, too.
So many broken adults got that way because of things that happened to them when they were children.
The funny thing about trauma is that it is selective in who it affects. This is why some men return from war and go onto lead productive lives, and others shoot themselves in the head.
It’s all about perception. It’s not how we perceive the event so much as how we perceive our role in it.
Trauma, like pressure, turns some into diamonds and others into dust. Our experiences can turn us into better people — if they don’t end up killing us in the process.
If you are one of the people who are broken, you don’t have to be forever. People heal. People bounce back.
Resilience is the natural and normal outcome of trauma. It just doesn’t feel like it until it does.
The road to recovery begins with the desire to get better. You’ll start out slow, barely crawling, but one day you’ll wake up and realize that every step you have taken is a step in the right direction.
Just keep going.
If you enjoyed this story, and maybe are looking to work on your own trauma, I suggest you look into online counseling programs. I recommend BetterHelp, which offers a discount to new members with this link.
Therapy will change your life – all you have to do is let it.
Hi, I came across this post last night and I had to stop reading partway through. I was enjoying your writing style and honesty, but then I got to the graphic mention of child abuse and had to click away from the post because it left me in tears.
I absolutely agree that these issues should be discussed, and I can’t even imagine how painful and difficult it must have been for you seeing and hearing about what had happened to the child (and probably many others, in your role as a therapist). But would you consider adding a trigger warning to the top of the post – something like “Trigger warning: contains mention of child abuse” – so that anyone who may have been personally affected by these issues can choose whether or not to engage with the post? It can be deeply upsetting to come across descriptions of abuse and can trigger PTSD symptoms for some people.
That said, thank you for writing about difficult subjects and helping to reduce the stigma of open discussion of mental health.
You are absolutely right, and I absolutely will add a trigger warning. I apologize for the oversight. Thank you for pointing that out. I also appreciate the kind words. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for responding and adding the trigger warning – I appreciate it!
When you’re right – you’re right!
This is reality. This is life. I don’t know what to say. Having empathy can restore these broken souls’ faith in humanity. The children need it, especially. I’m just thinking of Oprah and the abuse she suffered, and look at who she became! Children inherently can sense good from evil, and in time can process right and wrong done to them, and they are resilient! Keep doing what you are doing. You never know how one small gesture of kindness can change a life.
Thanks for your comment!
Hello! I understand that some people are broken. Personally I feel that the word broken is harsh. I am Haunted, the memories of the past just don’t go away. Being Broken implies that it can’t be fixed. I’m haunted, not broken.
I loved your raw post till you recommended online therapy for ther kind of serious trauma you are writing about. Intense trauma work in an online format is… irresponsible. For other readers out there, disregard that advice and find a live, local person to work with. Online therapy is for parenting issues, moderate anxiety, and the like.