Broken but Whole

If we men continue to define ourselves by our ability to suffer quietly then we are only hurting ourselves. 

As I write this I am feeling two very contradictory different things.  I am feeling broken, but I am also feeling whole.  A wise woman once told me that many things can be true at once and we can hold these truths at the very same time.  I am beginning to believe her. 

When people are hurt, physically or emotionally, we need to seek comfort, shelter, or safety.  Without the access to individuals or communities of care, we are susceptible to crumbling under the weight of pain.  We as human beings are built to connect with one another. When we experience intense pain, there is an inexplicable catharsis that occurs between people who have felt similar pain. It is within this space that the miracle of healing can occur. 

Unfortunately, under our current social conditioning – what we at A CALL TO MEN call the collective socialization of manhood, men are told to stand strong as individuals and be independent in their suffering.   Our manhood is, in part, defined by how “well” we handle pain by ourselves throughout our lives.  Men are celebrated for their ability to handle pain in solitary and suffer quietly.  When men endure pain by themselves, without help, relief, or support, we regard them as heroes.

The next generation of manhood can find a new way, a healthier way, a more humane way.  If we men continue to define ourselves by our ability to suffer quietly then we are only hurting ourselves.  The restrictions of our socialization cut us off from the single greatest source of healing available to us as humans – each other.  To suffer alone is to agonize aimlessly.  To suffer in the presence of others offers healing to yourself and to those who lend their ears to hear your pain.  Don’t believe me?  Ask any long-standing member of an alcoholics anonymous group or member of wounded veterans group.  But I am not here to prove my point.  I am here to share my pain and my story in hopes that it helps you maneuver through yours.

I am going to get real with you – sharing how I am learning to navigate the treacherous waters of hurt.  I must be honest and authentic because that’s how we access ourselves and each other.  When I tell my truth, I show my vulnerability, which is off limits according to men’s socialization.  Men are socialized to be powerful and dominating, fearless and in control, strong and emotionless, and successful at any cost.  When my walls are down it allows others in to help.  So here goes.  

My pain has come in many forms as of late.  Recently I have felt shattered, broken to pieces.  Inside one month I have had my heart and my bones broken.  While my heart was freshly broken and my soul confused, I was thrown from a motor vehicle and had my bones crushed.  As I lay in an ambulance, drowning in agony and hurt I asked myself, how will I endure? The doctors told me surgery would fix my body, but I asked myself, what would heal my heart and soul?

Some of the things I deemed most precious had been stripped away in what felt like an instant, and I was left to figure out how to pick up the pieces.  How am I supposed to stand tall and move forward when the world around me feels so unsafe?  I found my answer in my manhood.

I have been on a journey of redefinition for quite some time. This journey has led me to build my manhood not by my ability to tolerate pain, but by my ability to connect and care when in pain.  I have spent years building lasting, loving connections with others through mutual trust, respect, and dignity.  I spent time making sure the people in my life felt safe, cared for, and loved. 

In the midst of my hurt, I remembered how I had loved, cared for, and treated my connections and I reached out hoping to receive that love in equal volume.  Once I asked for help, I received what can best be described as a flood of support.  People were willing to drop their lives to come make sure I felt safe and valued. There are no words to describe how supported I felt. While I am healing from multiple wounds, some that are guaranteed to mend in time and others that may last a lifetime, I remain confident because I discovered what I refer to as my healing network.  These are the people in my life who have shown me understanding, compassion, and empathy during the hardest time in my life.  It took courage to construct this network, but it was worth the effort, the vulnerability, and the emotional investment.

Because I have spent so much time redefining manhood to mean so much more than what the Man Box dictates I have been the beneficiary of an intimidating social experiment.  Deciding to reach for empathy, connection, and vulnerability as a man often comes with severe consequences from other men.  The consequences are usually invalidation, isolation, and rejection. This happens because acting in these ways is associated with femininity and weakness.  That’s what makes asking for help is so terrifying.  Men might be perceived as feminine and weak, and we have been taught there is nothing worse. Through this redefining process I have benefited not only from finding my healing network, but I have found myself.

I learned that when it feels like the ground under your feet might just sink and drag you into the abyss, there is a way out, a way to save yourself.  Nobody is going to force you to ask for help, only you can make that choice.  So be brave and ask for help, be vulnerable and reap the benefits. Let’s allow our definition of manhood to include the ability to reach out in a crisis and to reach back when someone else has extended their arms toward us. When we make that choice, we can feel broken but whole at the very same time.

Jay Taylor, A CALL TO MEN Trainer