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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Thankful: Being Safe in my own Head and Body

It is a different Thanksgiving. My children and grandchildren are far away. Scott is working. Weber and I are hanging out like most mornings now. We will be going to celebrate with friends later today, but for now it is just quiet—except for “gnawing on a bone” sounds from Weber.

It seems like a good moment to reflect on how very thankful I am to be sitting here safe in my little home, safe in my head and body, and safe in this very different life in which I have found myself.

Feeling safe in my head and body seems like a weird thing to be thankful for—but for those who have ever felt debilitating fear and shame, it will make sense. I didn’t feel unsafe in my own head and body because there was something wrong with me. I felt that way because of all that was done to me. I think that is a fundamental thing we do not understand about mental illness. Beyond the systemic ways that a brain may malfunction; some form of trauma causes the majority of mental illness. That makes all the difference in the world because there is hope for healing.

The description for my soon to be published book, Brave: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, says that my writing is vulnerable. Let me just tell you, it may be a brand new level of vulnerable. Why? Why would I do that? It is simple. I can’t tell anyone there is hope unless I am honest about how far I have come. If there is any piece of “Yeah, she can heal because she wasn’t really that bad off” in anyone’s mind, it will be gone after reading my book. I was that bad off. What happened to me (which I don’t fully share) was that bad. There is hope.

Today, I am thankful for so much. My husband who took care of me (no small task), my therapist who believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself, my children and grandchildren who I miss completely today, and all my truest friends (old and new) who have been such an important part of my healing. I am also thankful for the small child inside of me who chose to be BRAVE and live life despite what happened to her.

I am thankful God offered me a path to healing. I am also thankful I took the path. In her Foreword to my book, my therapist, Dr. Susan Kwiecien writes:

Janyne was an exceptionally brave child, young adult, and therapy client. Between therapy sessions, she wrote volumes as she processed what emerged from each intense therapy session and prepared for the next session. She bravely stayed with therapy when she wanted it to be done, and stayed until she was able to connect understanding and compassion with all of herself.

Yes, I am thankful for myself today. The vulnerable writing in my book is a tribute to the work we did. There is really not a greater gift I could ever give myself than to feel the peace inside my head and body that I feel today. It is what God desires for each person who has experienced the unimaginable, but it does require us to be BRAVE.

Every time someone posts that they have preordered my book, I reflect on my mixed feelings of gratitude and “What in the world have I done?” I tried to articulate the answer to the question as I talked with Scott before he left. Even with Starbucks bringing me to life, it was a bit muddled. Maybe I can write it better than I can say it—that is usually the case.

First, I wrote the book as a means to my own healing. I could have stopped there and left it on my computer. It would have been enough. But, second, I am forever breaking the bars of the cage of shame in which I lived for 60 years. Without being completely vulnerable, I would still be hiding. I have boundaries. I have very carefully chosen what I included, but not because shame hindered me for telling everything. That is a big difference.

Third, we are on the very edge of breaking free from some of the power abusers have had over victims. From my place of healing, I can’t figure out why, in some cases, I didn’t say something—but our entire culture is built on silencing victims. I want to be part of changing this.

Fourth, for the most part, except maybe for therapists, we never see the really deep damage inside a child who has experienced abuse. If you never experienced sexual abuse as a child, it is impossible for you to comprehend the damage. God, through my writing, has enabled me to help others understand the depth of pain caused by abuse. No one will ever view what a resilient child looks like inside the same.

Finally, I desire to give hope to those who have been abused, but I am concerned for those readers who have not sought professional help for healing their own trauma. In the introduction to the book, I say:

If you are aware of childhood trauma in your own life, you may have difficulty reading this book. Please seek professional care. My story is likely to make readers sad; but for those who have never received therapeutic healing for trauma, it may open up unresolved wounds. Then again, it may give you hope for a level of healing you never believed possible. This book is intended to increase awareness about the effects of childhood trauma, but professional help is necessary for healing.

I am not completely sure, except for this statement, how to address my concerns for others. I simply have to believe that as much as God desired healing for me, this desire is also present for every other hurting person. I can only do my part—which is to be vulnerable—and then I must trust that the same God who prompted me to therapy and to the therapist who would have the necessary skills and professional care to help me can do the same for all others who are hurting.

Today, I am thankful for being safe in my own head and body. That is a really big deal! When you read the book, you will understand!

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