The power of the broken hearted

Since I started making my own way in the world, I’ve generally considered myself to be a strong woman. I am by and large tough, resourceful, and not afraid to feel things deeply: to be vulnerable … especially in my work with people who have suffered trauma. I have thought of myself as a successful survivor of a violent childhood, a litany of losses and what is termed “ordinary human suffering”. And it was probably this self assurance and my often foolhardy courage that enabled me to begin counselling asylum seekers and refugees from the African Diaspora.

I began in earnest in early 2009, shortly after the xenophobic attacks of 2008. I started one-on-one sessions with refugees who came into Rape Crisis Trust for free counselling. I then moved on to any referral that was given me, from other organisations and from former clients. I felt compelled to try to atone for the shame of how my country treats these people.

However, counselling people who have witnessed and survived a genocide, who have come from the ongoing horror that is happening in Congo DRC and who again suffered rape and murder in the land they had fled to for safety, became much more than simply about rape. It is about rape culture: ways of thinking that allow people to be brutalised; that leave people with the deep underlying belief that they are no longer a person… no longer human.

I have worked with people who thought that happiness is impossible and that hope is fatal. And they found the courage to keep on going. Every day they would get up to a strange world, where few could speak their language, none or very little of the favourite foods of home are available, there is no family to turn to. And in this world, they have been denied work, left to wait for days in queues watching people die of hunger beside them, only to receive another postponement, another insult, another dismissal. People who often can’t find work without a South African ID, can’t open a bank account and who are now being told that they have to travel from their shacks in Cape Town townships all the way to Mesina every three months, just to be denied refugee status or face another extension, which means more travelling.

I have witnessed a mother give up her children (after carrying them for weeks through dark forests, bleeding from multiple rapes and with hardly any food or water to get here) because she could not feed them or care for them in South Africa. I have witnessed a woman fall to her knees in gratitude for simply being spoken to as a person who has feelings and has needs. How can we let this happen to people? This too seems to be more of rape culture: the ability to see others as less deserving of human rights.

And truth be told after these few years of working with refugees, I am tired. I have worked with a constantly breaking heart, knowing terrible things. Here as I sit in my comfortable, quiet, rented cottage, with its pretty garden and three meals a day, I feel ready to give up. With my good education, the inherent power and privilege of being white and English speaking, I want to stop. To rest ….and I am going to for some time.

And while I rest in comfort, many of my former clients will continue to grow, to love, to hope and to get up again and again. These women and men use the power of their constantly breaking hearts to believe that there can again be good in the world, that there can be safety somewhere, that they can create another and better life. And I know now that I am not nearly as strong as them, as courageous as them. Their resilience leaves me in awe. As does the resilience and love of the counsellors at Rape Crisis and other organisations who continue to do this work. I hope to find my powerful broken heart again and I know you all will help me.

Morgan Mitchell

Morgan Mitchell lives in Cape Town where she works with survivors of trauma in private practice as a trauma and EMDR counsellor. She has been a volunteer at Rape Crisis since 2001 and is a feminist civil rights activist. For over 15 years, she has also developed materials for a variety of ages and cultures.

MorganAnneMitchell_DH_0133

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About rapecrisisblog

We have a vision of a South Africa in which rape survivors suffer no secondary trauma, and are supported throughout their interaction with the Criminal Justice System (CJS). Our mission is to promote an end to violence against women, specifically rape, and to assist women to achieve their right to live free from violence. Rape Crisis Cape Town seeks to achieve its mission through counselling and training of women, thereby reducing the trauma experienced by rape survivors, and encouraging reporting of rape and the conviction of rapists.

16 thoughts on “The power of the broken hearted

  1. There are those of us who are so lucky, and those of us who seem to suffer constantly. I wish we could all be happy, but it seems the greedy, violent few, who have no compassion, and just take, constantly, get their way. How is this, why is this. I wish I knew. This lady is a supreme being, a kind caring soul. She deserves her rest. I hope she finds peace, and I hope and wish the world would wake up and wipe out that dark side. I hope and I wish, always.

  2. Phew Morgan! You and Rape Crisis have helped to piece together so many broken souls, striving to glue and bond people back together with parts of your own precious souls, squeezing the last drops from a tube that will run dry if not replenished. It is time to stick a pin in the nozzle (you can tell I used to make lots of model airplanes!), boil up some glue again, by mixing plenty of rest and laughter and pleasure, and fill out all the wrinkles in that well squeezed tube. Not that I’m calling you a well squeezed tube, of course! See you soon.. xxx

  3. The poet Nayyirah Waheed once wrote “every once and a while, take off your life and rest”. It is required to fight the battles we face.

  4. This is a beautiful and difficult post. Are you familiar with the poet Jack Gilbert? Here is one of the poems that has helped me continue advocating for abused and neglected children:

    A Brief for the Defense

    Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
    are not starving someplace, they are starving
    somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
    But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
    Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
    be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
    be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
    at the fountain are laughing together between
    the suffering they have known and the awfulness
    in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
    in the village is very sick. There is laughter
    every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
    and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
    If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
    we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
    We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
    but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
    the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
    furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
    measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
    If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
    we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
    We must admit there will be music despite everything.
    We stand at the prow again of a small ship
    anchored late at night in the tiny port
    looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
    is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
    To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
    comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
    all the years of sorrow that are to come.

    REFUSING HEAVEN (Knopf, 2005)
    From post at http://www.smith.edu/poetrycenter/poets/abrief.html

  5. I really appreciate this blog. The best way us social workers and therapists can support others is if we recognize our own challenges, our own limitations and are compassionate to all, including ourselves.

  6. Thank you for the work you all do at the Rapr Crisis center. The work you do is invaluable and crucial. I hope more people see this and think about how they can try to interrupt rape culture. Thank you all again. My heart and thoughts are with you. I will pass this on.

  7. Pingback: The power of the broken hearted

  8. Strength, love and peace to You! Not only are you a source of compassion to your clients but also a source of support to us your fellow counsellers.

  9. Morgan you are a hero in your strength and in your vulnerability. Thank your for speaking so honestly about what’s it like to teeter on the edge of the deep dark pit of horror , about to fall in. Thank you also for speaking for bravely about need to step away from the edge. That is a message I need to hear over and over again.

  10. I hope you are sincere about taking a break, no=one no matter how strong can continually face what you come into contact with daily. You say you are strong, but you are also human, in my eyes you are and always will be “Little billy goat gruff” tackling the problems every one else either ignores, or sweeps under the mat.

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