Collecting the pieces

Go back for what you forgot

Life is Beautiful (2005)

Life is Beautiful (2005)

"It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." — Ghanaian proverb


Sankofa is a word in the Twi language of Ghana that translates to "It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten."

In other words: look at the past, reclaim the scattered pieces of yourself, and learn from the experience.

It's easy to keep running forward at breakneck speed, but sooner or later, you might come to a point and say the same words I uttered after I'd turned 42: "How the hell did I get here? How did things get so messed up?"

Ah, those simple questions in life. They seem so innocent. Yet they need to be explored because on the other side is catharsis. My questions begged some deep soul searching, and Peter Gabriel summed it up beautifully in his lyrics:

I'm digging in the dirt
Stay with me I need support
I'm digging in the dirt
To find the places I got hurt
To open up the places I got hurt

I re-opened my deepest wounds, which had never healed. As it turns out, they never healed because I never explored them, the same way that a broken bone won't heal strong if it isn't set properly. While I've had an interest in psychology and human behavior since about age 6, what helped me find the missing pieces to the puzzle was while casually researching the topic of emotional trauma. Because to get past a trauma, one needs to understand on an intellectual level what happened.

During my research I came across a lecture by Bessel van der Kolk on YouTube about how our long-term health and happiness can be compromised by prior exposure to violence, emotional abuse, and other forms of traumatic stress. It was an enlightening lecture because it explained how I'd gotten stuck in a few traumas growing up. They were emotionally overwhelming and I couldn't logically understand them, so I buried them in my subconscious as a survival tactic. It explained certain behavior and paths I took. It also explained why I kept re-living the trauma many times to try to create a new outcome. Only that doesn't work; it just creates more emotional baggage and new wounds.

We all have patterned behavior. Start looking for the patterns and you'll see them.

In my case, I realized in my late 20s that I kept allowing myself to get into destructive relationships because I thought love means putting up with emotional abuse. I had learned growing up that the people who love you are gonna hurt you, and you have to just keep turning the other cheek. In short, I'd learned to sacrifice myself in the name of love. Only abusive behavior is anything but love, so all that did was to teach me that I was "less than".

It was a light bulb moment when I finally realized (a) I deserved better, (b) I was allowed to have it, and (c) I wasn't going to settle for less. (Read more here.)

I allowed myself to make a different choice to get a different outcome. I declared to myself that I wanted someone to love me for me, not for what I can do for them, who I know, or any other reason. I was ready for unconditional love and wasn't going to settle for anything less. About a year or so later I met Armand. He's the one who loves me unconditionally. He's also the one who taught me how to love myself unconditionally.

"It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten." — Ghanaian proverb


What a difference five years makes! Since asking those questions I've cleaned out the scariest skeletons in my closet. I faced my past and reclaimed the pieces I'd lost. I can look myself in the mirror and love what I see.

The deeper I go, the more I uncover.
The more I uncover, the more I release.
The more I release, the freer I feel.
The freer I feel, the happier I am.
The happier I am, the better my life.

My life is now beautiful because I did the inner work.

After digging in the dirt and reclaiming the lost pieces, we reach catharsis. Usually it happens gradually, but sometimes it comes in eureka moments. With catharsis comes forgiveness, wisdom and a deeper understanding of what it means to be whole. To feel whole. (Read more about that here.)

This comes back to my post Loving your imperfections about the metaphor of kintsukuroi, which explains that you're even more beautiful by being broken. The point is to transform how you see the world and, ultimately, how you see yourself.


Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.” — Unknown