Saturday, April 17, 2010

You are NOT broken

Clients keep asking me the same question, "I'm broken. I don't think I can be fixed. Can I be fixed?"

I recently participated in a Passover seder at the women's prison in Chino (aka California Institution for Women). The Jewish and Catholic chaplains there are old friends of mine, so this was a two-fer: I got to see two old friends and I was in the presence of some pretty amazing women.

CIW is a medium-security prison. There are lifers there, but there are also quite a number of short-timers there (usually drug-related offenses). Interestingly enough, the women at CIW conform to the statistics for women in prison: most of the female prisoners are not there for violent crimes (unlike male prisoners in the penal system). Mostly they are incarcerated for acts of amazingly poor judgment. Not to say that they aren't smart, some are beyond smart, and the vast majority are very intelligent. The behaviors that got them into prison tend to involve men...specifically, bad choices in men. I'm not talking about the women who defended themselves against violent husbands or boyfriends, perhaps after years of domestic violence. Those guys tend to be charming and protective in the beginning of the relationship. Why wouldn't you choose a guy who woos you and makes you feel safe? It's only later that the charm turns into put-downs and insults; and the protectiveness turns into oppression, suppression, and/or violence. It's tough to see the potential abuser in the guy who is opening your car door for you; it's not the woman's fault for choosing him.

I'm talking about those women who walked into the relationship with their eyes wide open, who picked drug users/addicts, petty criminals, and low-end sociopaths. The women who have a penchant for bad boys or wounded boys-- AND wouldn't have it any other way. And, then, to the amazement of anyone with common sense, those women actually drove the get-away car when he robbed the 7-11; or allowed her own occasional drug use to become major drug use, and then allowed him to prostitute her; or chose him over her children, and are serving time for child neglect or abandonment. In other words, the majority of women in prison today are there because they have seriously bad taste in men. How did that happen? They probably had seriously bad (or absent) fathers, step-fathers, mothers, or step-mothers. They were probably abused, physically, sexually, or verbally, for most of their childhood. They were probably incested or raped before they got out of their teens. The victims of their own lives, they go on to become complicit in their own victimization as the years go on.

They feel broken. I listened to their stories during the seder. And, then, I spoke from the heart when I spontaneously asked them to join me in a meditation. "You are not your experiences. If you believe that you are your experiences, then you might believe that you are broken. You are not broken, nor do you need to be fixed. You simply need to be uncovered and allowed to shine. Let the Light shine through you."

What is my answer to my patients, when they lament their brokenness? "Creativity involves separating the parts from the whole. Repair is making whole the parts." Just a thought.