Monday, August 11, 2014

“We Are All Damaged Goods”

My uncle, who also has his own blog, made this statement once: “We’re all damaged goods.” It just sort of came to him. And right he was.

I work with the people we traditionally think of as damaged – abused and neglected children. And they are very often damaged. But interestingly I wanted to be a lawyer because I saw harmed children in another context. I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in northern California, and I worked in a city even wealthier than the one in which I grew up. I was a camp counselor and worked in an after school program as well.

There were very few times I suspected “traditional” child abuse was occurring in these families, and the times I did suspect it, those suspicions tore me apart. I still wonder, more than ten years later, whether I made the right calls in certain situations. But traditional physical abuse is actually not as common as people think when people think of child abuse. Although I see it more now than even 2.5 years ago when I started my current job, the real issue remains neglect.

When neglect gets really bad, children do not develop properly. Children often have speech delays, and research tells us their brains actually develop less fully. There are physical symptoms of physical neglect. I do not want to minimize physical abuse or physical neglect. They are awful and horrible. I wish there were more media coverage of just how bad these issues affect the children in our communities. But here I want to talk about something else.

What I saw all too often where I worked was children dropped off at 7am and picked up at 6pm. I expect children would have been dropped off earlier and picked up later, but those were the hours we were open. I saw, and had to administer, a growing amount of medication over the course of the 4 years I worked there as families decided it was too difficult to deal with children who acted like children. As cars got bigger parents and children were more and more separated. Sure, these children could read well, and their speech was perfect, but something major was missing.

I started this post about a week ago, but I guess the universe had other plans for me. Today Robin Williams took his own life. He blessed this world with such humor, grace, and true talent, and yet he was depressed. There is nothing wrong with being depressed, but society asks us to hide it, to put on a happy face. Instead of getting help, Robin Williams became Mork and Mrs. Doubtfire and my personal favorite – O Captain My Captain, the great Mr. Keating. Interestingly, I watched that movie this past week, and it touched me as much now as it did nearly 15 years ago when I first saw it.

But the truth is that all of us have experienced some sense of loss in our lives. No one had a perfect childhood, and our pain is what helps us grow. These are clichés, but they also miss part of the point. The damage is real. The damage is scary. And we are all looking for how to heal that damage. I have written often about community on this blog. For awhile it became one of my favorite themes. Although I did not know it at the time, research tells us that having people, even one person, helps us recover from trauma.

What I see is that we are unable to respond to trauma and damage the way our bodies were intended to respond. Instead of allowing ourselves to cry, we hide our tears for fear of looking weak. Instead of allowing our muscles to shake, we hold ourselves stiff until our bodies give out. Instead of reaching out for support, we put on a happy face and act our ways through life.

But we are all damaged at some level. This is not a nihilistic approach. It is a heartfelt approach to life.  And we all need each other. Yet we do the very things that make it so much harder to recover. For me, yoga was my way out. Some might say I have become too sensitive since starting yoga. The truth, however, is just that now I know the importance of touching base with others and reaching out.

Yoga has been that path for me. It has allowed me to notice when something is not right and to feel the damage. That does not mean it needs to linger. Sometimes that allows it to go away faster. But my uncle’s realization is huge and important. When we finally realize we are all damaged goods, we no longer have to hide our own damage. What kind of amazing world would it be if we showed our true selves and helped each other out instead of hiding behind our different masks all the time?

It is this recognition that we are all damaged that helps us learn compassion. And compassion helps us actually feel more loved. It is, therefore, our damage that allows us to heal, but first we have to recognize there is damage. And that comes in so many forms. This is not to say we are all horribly damaged, only to recognize that when we notice we are damaged, it is actually incredibly freeing, and we can then learn to reach out to one another, and ourselves, with love in our hearts rather than expecting everyone to be strong all the time. 

Are you able to share your heart with others? Are you able to see their damage, and yours, without judgment? 


© Rebecca Stahl 2014, all rights resered.
The post, We Are All Damaged Goods, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.