A Month of Thankfulness: My Dysfunctional and Broken Life

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Alyssa Royse is thankful for a dysfunctional childhood and an adulthood filled with crisis, because it made her who she is.

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People often look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that I am thankful for things in my life that many people think of as disasters. But I mean it. There is a Japanese tradition called Kintsugi that provides the most perfect metaphor. As artist Barbara Bloom explains it, “When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.”

It is in that spirit that I am grateful for everything that has made me who I am.

I am thankful for a childhood that was dysfunctional enough to teach me that I want something better for my adulthood, and for the childhood of my children.

I am thankful for my parents’ divorce, which taught me that I have the right to leave relationships that don’t make me happy, and can do so respectfully and lovingly, for the kids.

I am thankful for the 3 elementary schools, 3 junior highs and 3 high schools that I went to and felt like “instability” at the time, but now feel like a lifetime of lessons in self-reliance and embracing change.

I am thankful for all of the manipulative and co-dependent people in my life, for teaching me how to let go of things that hold me back and make me feel powerless, and reminding me that I am not responsible for carrying anyone else’s baggage.

I am thankful for every man who ever cheated on me, lied to me, and let me down, because they showed me what I don’t deserve, and taught me to value myself by surrounding myself with people who value me.

I am thankful for my rape. Having a gun to my head clearly showed me the difference between sex and violence, and taught me not to not hold myself responsible for the actions of others. It showed me that the times at which I feel the most broken are often the ones that are making me stronger. Looking back, this helped me see that I can always make a bright future for myself, no matter how dark it looks at the time. It also has helped set me on a life’s path to fight for social justice, in all of its forms.

I am thankful for the opportunity to battle through addiction and mental health crises with people I love.  It is from them that I learned how strong, supportive and flexible love is, (and I am) and the compassion necessary to fight for the humanity in all people. No matter what.

I am thankful for the car that drove 30 MPH into a car I was riding in, breaking my neck and giving me a life of chronic pain. Being that close to death gave me gratitude the likes of which I’ve never known, and chronic pain has given me an uncanny ability to find things I can do rather than focus on things I can’t do.

But most of all, I am thankful for the people in my life, who I chose, and who I love. Who chose me and love me. I am not sure I would know how lucky I am, or even recognize all of them, were it not for all the unmitigated shit that came before.

I am thankful for every bruised knee, broken heart, torn muscle, and shattered dream. They all made me who I am. And I am thankful that I am me.

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About Alyssa Royse

Alyssa is freelance writer, speaker, fitness trainer and personal coach living in Seattle with her husband and their 3 daughters. They own a gym that she is not legally allowed to tell you the name of because it contains a trademarked word that she paid a lot of money to be affiliated with, but can't use without violating the trademark. She can also be found on her eponymous blog, where she pontificates about food, family, politics and the Seattle rain. Yes, she would love to speak at your event, host a workshop or write something for you. Just ask.

Comments

  1. As I read your article I thought of Wilhelm Reich, who established the study of “character structure”, or how we react and armor ourselves from psychological shocks. We all, of course, have a spiritual core, but to survive in the material world, we develop a “soul pod” that protects us from our physical/psychological environment. It is this synergy of defense and sacredness that gives us character, makes us interesting, Our wounds, our scars make us interesting and show we have life experience. Some cultures still ritually scar or tattoo youth to give them passage to adulthood and expectation of life’s wounds. A life fully lived is not one spent in a plastic bubble, but full of rash, harsh surprises. Thanks for your courageous kintsugi.

  2. Luke Davis says:

    Hi Alyssa.
    That’s one rough ride you’ve had. I’m glad you managed to keep your core self and grow from all of that it gives hope to the rest of us.

    One day I would like to know why these lessons are so damn painful though.

  3. Alyssa Royse says:

    Luke, I can’t, obviously, really answer the “why are these so painful” question, but I can usually find a metaphor. I am a CrossFit trainer and gym owner. (Nothing like what many people think of either one of those things.) And I know that when I have a particularly intense workout, I am sore as hell for days afterwards. And that never seems to go away. No matter how fit I am, when I exceed my general tolerance, I’m sore. That is my body, painfully internalizing something new and hard and scary and challenging.

    Likewise, when I train a class of total beginners, they flounder and get frustrated and yes, really sore for the first month. And I always tell them that I see this all the time, it is hard, but the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and then you get strong. And that stopping because you’re sore never gets you stronger, and doesn’t ever prevent pain from the next time you do something that your body thinks is “too much.” At the end of the first month, we repeat the first workout they did, and they always laugh at how much easier it is. (And months later, they realize that it was just a “warm up.”)

    Obviously, sports is something you choose to do, and a lot of the “shit” in life is stuff that happens to you.

    My life feels like that to me, often. Every hardship, and I’ve had more than most and less than many, has ultimately taught me something that I am glad I know. Not least of which is that it stops hurting if I just keep moving, which I know I have the skills to do. It has informed how I parent my kids – who are spoiled and privileged by any measure, just to be clear.

    But I don’t protect them from things that they don’t want to do, or they will fail at, I let them fall down literally and metaphorically, in safe and moderately controlled ways, so that they will learn how to struggle, fail and that life is not a state of chronic joy. It is joyful, but that joy is not constant, and the perception of “happily ever after” is bad for all of us. Sometimes life is really hard. You still have to show up and know you can do it, and that time passes at the same speed whether you’re having fun or not.

    As my ex-husband used to say, “it’s not the decisions you make, it’s what you make of your decisions.” I think that’s really true. And it’s true of things that happen to you as well. At some point, we are responsible for what we choose to lose and carry in our own lives. I had that beaten into me, quite literally. And I chose not to carry the bad shit that is really someone else’s doing.

    I haven’t had my morning coffee yet, so I am not as sharp as I’d like to be. But it’s such an important question to me. And, as you may have guesses, I’m an impossible optimist, which I suspect is just how I’m “wired.”

    • Luke Davis says:

      Thanks Alyssa. I didn’t expect such a long reply. I have recently gone through a separation and well some weeks like the one I have just had are less than fun. I will get over it eventually but some of my past keeps intruding into it and some of it is still as painful as if it only happened yesterday.

      I wrote this a few weeks back if your interested. Lisa posted it anonymously for me because my ex knows I occasionally write for gmp and I didn’t want her just finding it. But writing it has helped. It no longer intrudes quite like it used to.
      http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/defining-moments-they-can-get-gmp/

      I started swimming again about 8 weeks back. I know about how hard that is to get back into :) But 1.5km a day 4-5 days a week now :)

      I have learnt something from my past which I am thankful for (an article which is in progress) but I had forgotten so many lessons I learnt because of a codependent marriage and I am finding it hard to follow my own experience and learning on how to heal myself… again.

  4. Thank you for laying it all out in the open there— wow! I would like to hear some of your stories if any of that is up for discussion…. Amazing how you take a negative and turn it into a positive…! ( I saw my doctor for post-op follow-up this week and I jokingly asked him if my breast implants (I had reconstruction) could stop a bullet…! It made me think that perhaps the most frightening and painful experience of your life could transform you into Wonder Woman if you were willing to accept that frame of mind…)

    • Alyssa Royse says:

      Leia, I am pretty much an open book. Article ideas often come out of the comment threads of other articles.

      And, as always, I WISH I COULD DRAW! I love the idea of a band of Superhero women who have literally turned their hardships into assets – breasts that can stop bullets? That’s pure genius.

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