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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

The Blanket of Brokenness

I receive messages and emails (through my website) on a pretty consistent basis. They often include heart wrenching stories. I am honored by the trust others display in writing to me and am so proud of their bravery. The other day, one simple phrase spoken by the writer’s therapist, struck me as so profound that it deserved a blog.

In the context of the story, the therapist said that some are comfortable under their blanket of brokenness. There were two words that began with “b” in that sentence and they don’t really seem to belong together. A blanket is comforting: Brokenness is not. How can brokenness be comforting like a blanket?

As I reflected on the blanket of brokenness, I remembered how I lived my life and all the structures I built to function in ways that appeared to be very healthy. I had knit together all my broken pieces into a patchwork facsimile of wholeness and though it was covering up a depth of pain that I couldn’t allow myself to see, I truly was comfortable with how I had worked it all out.

Yes, I and so many others live or lived comfortably under a blanket of brokenness. When we figure out how to function after painful or traumatic experiences, the “new normal” does seem comfortable. It is really easy to just curl up under the blanket of all the broken ways we have learned to function and be content. I lived that way my whole life. It really was frightening to go to therapy and remove the blanket. I knew there were deep wounds it was hiding. It really did feel more comfortable to remain under the blanket of brokenness—but joy was always out of reach.

I had an exquisite blanket of brokenness. Now that I can see it clearly, it reminds me of a crazy quilt. My mother was fascinated with crazy quilts. So was I. Maybe we both felt some kinship with them. Maybe they were what we strove to achieve—something amazing out of brokenness. The beautiful creations were made with discarded pieces of fabric and lots of creative stitches. Yes. I think we both were hiding under crazy quilts.

My grandmother gave me a patchwork quilt. It wasn’t quite to the level of a crazy quilt but similar. I recognized some of the pieces as being the fabric from dresses she wore. It had a wool blanket inside it and it felt like the weighted blankets that are becoming popular. She was no longer able to quilt so she had tied the blanket. She was unhappy with it, but it was a treasure to me. When I would shake for unknown reasons, I loved to have the weight of that blanket on me. It, along with many other treasured items is in a box in my daughter’s garage. I could have used it while I healed and shook the trauma out of me, but I didn’t understand trauma when I packed it in a box.

As much as I loved that blanket, walking around with it wrapped around me as I lived my life wouldn’t have made sense. Yet, I did live with a blanket of brokenness wrapped around me. I had figured out how to live my life in lots of broken pieces. I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t how I was meant to live. I had hidden under that blanket for so long, it felt like who I was.

My blanket of brokenness had lots of layers. It had the parts I rejected and the parts I created to please the world. It also had a thousand stitches created for the purpose of making all the pieces seem whole and beautiful. All around the edges was a layer of spirituality that I called God. In that layer, I wove untruths about God such as, “God caused my pain so I could grow” and, “My pain was a part of God’s plan for my life.” The blanket of brokenness was all held together by obedience to the rules of men. I hid under that blanket for 60 years believing there was something horrible about me that I could never allow anyone to see. How tragic.

I am still processing some pieces of that blanket that stubbornly cling to me. It is as if I am unknowingly carrying around some random coping mechanism and suddenly see it clinging to my hip or elbow. The stitches I used are holding tightly, and I have to carefully remove them and figure out how to take care of myself in healthier ways.

So, why didn’t I just curl up under the blanket of brokenness and live out my life? I was comfortable there. No one knew I was hiding. I could have retired to take the stress off of me that was wearing out the blanket. None would have suspected anything. Why couldn’t I do that?

Why couldn’t I remain comfortably under the blanket of brokenness? I think it disturbs people that I didn’t. I think there are so many under blankets of brokenness. There are probably some who start reading BRAVE and have to stop because it stirs something inside of them that wants to break loose from their souls. I tell them to stop reading. Maybe it is best to remain comfortable.

I can’t decide that for others; I only know that I had always believed God would bring me healing and joy and I was never going to be able to settle for less. I am still removing those pieces that cling because I refuse to believe that I need to settle.

Now, I am on the journey of creating a new healthy blanket with truths about the God who loved me and wept when I experienced trauma. The fabric I am using is bright and colorful and not dimmed by the fog of dissociation. The stitches are no longer pulling at the delicate fabric of my life. The stories told in each part of the quilt no longer hide pain and brokenness. My blanket of brokenness has been transformed into a blanket of healing. I am adding additional healing and heathy coping mechanisms every single day—all stitched together with love and compassion for myself.

Being comfortable under the blanket of brokenness was nothing like this. It is worth the journey but I understand it is hard to give up the blanket of brokenness. It was created by the child inside of us who knew no other way to survive. Mine helped me function for 60 years but was beginning to unravel. I believed there was something better. I was right.

(Photographs of quilts from the Smithsonian Quilt Collection)

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