- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
Reflecting on a BRAVE Journey
It has been an interesting week for me as BRAVE launched and began to arrive around the world. I vacillated between ridiculous excitement and monumental awareness. I almost put the word dread there, but that would imply that I experienced shame, or distress, or regret or . . . well, you know all the expected things when one has just told a personal story to the world.
There wasn’t any of that kind of angst. I had spent at least two years working through version after version of this book, cutting, editing, rewriting, talking to God, talking to Scott, talking to my children, talking to my friends, and working through layer after layer with my therapist. No, it wasn’t dread. There was no shame. There was no fear. I made a choice and was confident it was the correct one.
What I felt, was awareness that there would be many different reactions and possibly much silence—a kind of hushed silence. I had learned to not believe the silence of others around the subject of mental health was because there was something wrong with me. Slowly, the reactions began to arrive. All were incredibly supportive—but some contained important insights for my journey.
The 1st most common reaction was: You certainly are BRAVE!
Yes. I. Am. I have always been BRAVE; but I haven’t always been healthy and BRAVE. I was an internal mess. “Part of my sharing my messiness in the book is to tell others it is OK—we are not alone in our messiness. There is just so much fear. We need to help each other feel safe.” If I am thinking about skydiving and want some advice, the person who has never felt afraid of heights is not helpful to me. I want to hear from someone who felt absolute terror as they jumped, but lived to enjoy the experience. I decided I couldn’t help anyone unless I was honest about the messiness—and that I was glad I took the journey.
The 2nd most common reaction was: You are going to help so many people! This is true. One particularly difficult day in therapy, I said, with a monster pile of Kleenex next to me, “If I am ever able to help even one person with what I am going through and learning, it will be worth it.” I didn’t want the younger women (and men) following behind me to hide their pain until it almost destroyed them. I knew that the only way to change that was to make going to therapy as common and accepted as having surgery for a physical ailment. It should be no different! I published BRAVE to change the conversation about going to therapy.
The 3rd most common reaction was: I can’t read it. These are people who I care about and people who care about me. I spent a great deal of time being concerned that I might be hurting others—which is the very last thing I ever wanted to do. I tried to address this in the Introduction by saying, “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 everyone sad, but for those who have never received therapeutic healing for trauma; it may open up unresolved wounds.” I told one person just to hug the book for a while. I told others to read the first four chapters—it would be OK to that point. Then I had someone confirm that it is not a “graphic” book. There is no doubt about what happened to me, but I include zero graphic details. That doesn’t mean it isn’t emotional—to write a book about abuse and take the emotions out would be both impossible and counterproductive. I only tell only about a third of the story that exploded out of me. If it wasn’t necessary for the purpose of the book (which it is very purposeful), then I removed it—but there is no way to explain the far-reaching effects of what happened at three years of age unless it is clear that it caused me to be a target for perpetrators for until I was a young adult. This is so important for us to understand!!!
The 4th most common reaction: I hope you continue to heal. Thank you. We all are continuing to heal from something. I think the unsettledness that I feel about this reaction is knowing that there is a difference between the need to heal from those things that are affecting us every single day (especially trauma), and the normal day-to-day healing that is important and continuing but not debilitating. I wrote BRAVE while healing, but I did not publish it in order to heal from the trauma. I published it because I had healed. Yes, there are occasional things that unsettle me, but the proof of healing is that I know how to work through them. I never run away from facing the pain—or try to convince myself that the past is behind me and doesn’t matter—it matters. It simply doesn’t destroy me any longer. I made sure that I was in a good place before publishing. I wanted BRAVE to be part of my mission to help others heal, not an attempt to heal myself by telling my story to the world.
The 5th most common reaction: You are explaining me! There is nothing quite like the freedom we experience when we realize we are not the only one who ever experienced particular inner thoughts and/or feelings. Feelings are not the enemy. My journey to loving the part of me who held the feelings is a dissociative journey, but rejecting feelings keeps us all from experiencing joy. So many have a hurting child inside, just as I did. I feared her. I rejected her. I encapsulated her in the depth of me in an attempt to not hear her cries. It didn’t work, so I rejected the feelings that continually surfaced and many church teachings often made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Just the other day, I saw a meme about never trusting your feelings. I get it. There isn’t always a bear in the woods. But when we reject the hurting child inside of us in the guise of not listening to our feelings, we can never heal or experience life to its fullest. My words in BRAVE seem like I am explaining others because I am saying what others have been feeling, but there wasn’t anyone saying it out loud.
And finally, the 6th most common reaction: Thank you. You are welcome. Those who are saying thank you are the reason I was willing to be “crazy” BRAVE. I was willing to have some disagree with what I paid a great price to understand. I was willing to accept the silence of those who are unable to openly discuss mental health issues. I was willing to accept that some would distance themselves from me (which has occurred). I made sure I was fully healed and ready to process any reaction. I also made sure what I was saying was in line with the latest research on trauma. I did all my homework and my endorsements are the proof. I did all this because the only way we can change the world and help others heal is to be BRAVE.