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Beautiful Brokenness


An example of kintsugi by designer Lotte Dekker (Photo via Colossal)

Be all that you can be.

Just do it.

Have it your way.

Make It real.

Never stop improving.

You deserve a break today.

Live your best life.

Because you're worth it.

Everyone from Oprah to Nike preaches the gospel of success. Anyone who has waited in a checkout line beside the magazine rack knows how our culture continually bombards us with advice on how we too can have the best body, sex, marriage, vacation, and throw pillows. 

While there is nothing wrong with attempting to improve our relationships, our health, or finances, the tone and sheer quantity of these messages can make us feel that perfection is the only worthy goal. I beg to differ.

Neither our bodies, nor our homes resemble Gwenneth Paltrow’s. The imperfections of our lives cannot be erased with Photoshop or the latest miracle cream.  To be human is to fail, and to try and fail again. Perfection is a myth. Attempting to attain it only leaves us dissatisfied and unhappy.

What if we could shift our mindset from believing that perfection is where value lies to instead seeing the beauty in our brokenness? What if we could learn to embrace the failures, the mistakes, and the messy truth of ourselves and our Loved Ones?

The Japanese have a word for finding beauty in broken things. It is called wabisabi. This philosophy can be found in everything from Japanese pottery, to poetry, to gardens. It is also an underlying theme of the Japanese art form kintsugi (which means “golden repair”), a traditional way of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold, platinum, or silver. In the below video, filmed at Tokyobike in London, two kintsugi masters show how this artful mending is achieved. 

The art form of kintsugi, also referred to as kintsukuroi, expresses the idea that broken objects are worth repairing—it finds value and beauty in the imperfect. As Christopher Jobson from Colossal explains, “The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original.”

Kintsugi is the perfect metaphor for our broken relationships, human failures, and the fraught path to recovery that we share with our Loved One. Recovery requires all parties to take an honest look at the shattered, imperfect pieces—the mistakes, the lost dreams, and bad decisions. Wishing these parts would go away or that they had never broken in the first place is not a solution—it’s denial. Healing requires us, and our Loved One, to acknowledge the truth of these imperfections. Only then can repair begin.

Kintsugi cups (Photo via

Our Loved One’s addiction fuels a cycle of shame, as well as the fear of being abandoned and unlovable. If we can allow ourselves to look past the imperfections and recall the traits we have always admired most about our Loved One, we just may find our compassion and patience deepening. And our Loved One will sense this shift when we respond with empathy versus anger and criticism. When we maintain a positive attitude and reward our Loved One for their non-use, we send a clear message: You may be broken, but I will not discard you.

While we can’t fix our Loved One, we can support them in their quest to find help and healing. Ultimately, our Loved One must repair themselves, but the process will be easier and more effective if a “kintsugi master” is standing by to assist. As the AiR program teaches, our role is to help our Loved One find the “kintsugi master” (or recovery path) that is right for them, and to foster their worthiness, even when life is in pieces. 

I love kintsugi as a metaphor for recovery because it embraces the reality of the past, while simultaneously creating a new kind of wholeness and beauty. 

If we can see the beauty in a re-assembled, imperfect life, we make it easier for our Loved One to do the same, and in the process a new self-worth surfaces. By not discarding each other in these shattered moments, we affirm the real meaning of love. Each of us emerges more whole, more lovable, our former cracks illuminated and golden. 



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)