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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

BRAVE: To Read or Not to Read

Do you feel like the baby in the treetop as you think about reading BRAVE? It can be a precarious feeling. I understand! I have felt like this small child often. I wore out this page in the book I had as a child. I remember thinking, "Why is she up there so high?" All childhoods do not feel safe!

I often pause in the midst of my day for "conversations" with those who are reading—and some who have chosen not to read. It is a true sign of friendship when someone buys a book knowing he or she may not be able to bring themselves to read it. I respect this decision, but at the same time want to share my thoughts (and those of others).

I would never pressure anyone to read the book. I am way past the point in my healing where it was important to share my story. That is a very real phase and I probably had several conversations along the way that could have been more limited, but it was important for healing. Breaking the silence is a very important part of the journey. Many tell me, that I am the first person they have ever told about what happened to them. I feel so honored by their trust. I told my story to help them be BRAVE. They are!

I understand the fear of reading. Triggers are real and if someone has experienced sexual abuse, being triggered is a frightening experience. Without deep healing, it literally feels like you are experiencing the abuse all over again. I remember when I read The Shack. It was before I began therapy and healed my own story of abuse. I thought that the struggle I had with the first few chapters was just my love for children—it wasn’t. Probably reading that book was part of the reason the memories began to surface—so yes, as I say in the introduction, you may need to seek help before reading.

I used all my skill as an instructional designer when writing BRAVE. I have read books that throw graphic abuse details at you on the first page. Horrible idea. I tell the hesitant, they can read the first 40 pages and be fine. I foreshadow, leave clues in the section headers, and break up the most significant memories. I also weave teaching throughout and include fantasy and humor. I was thinking about my readers on every page. That doesn’t mean you won’t cry. Humans have been known to cry about books that are fictional; it would make sense they would cry over a true story.

I need to pause here a minute. Anyone who has trauma in his or her life (which at some level is everyone), gets uncomfortable when a story gets close to that pain. For some, like myself, it wasn’t just uncomfortable—it was terrifying. My emotions were very dysregulated as a child. I had no help in understanding them and so I buried the pain in what I describe as a twisted ball of black twine. It was like a violent thunderstorm in my soul. It felt like a monster that would devour me, but when I got to it, I realized it was a little three-year-old, blue-eyed, blonde-haired girl who needed someone to keep her safe, help her heal, and tell her there was nothing wrong with her. I ran away from a small little girl self for an entire lifetime.

During my healing journey, I sometimes wanted to go yell at the world, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that I was normal? There wasn’t anything wrong with me. Bad things happened to me! How did I live like this for 60+ years without anyone ever explaining this?”

I couldn’t let that happen to another generation.

For too many generations, we have been told that we need to leave our childhoods behind and become successful adults. That is exactly what I did, but I did it with the emotional soul of a small child who perceived everything through the lens of my repressed abuse. We never leave our childhoods behind. Our childhoods are our foundations. When we understand and accept what happened to us as children, process the pain instead of running from it, only then can we fully embrace our lives.

So, while I would never pressure anyone to read BRAVE, those who have (some with very difficult and painful childhoods) are saying that they are glad they read—and have asked me to encourage others. “It is worth the read!”

In the words of one of BRAVE’s readers (by way of the latest Amazon review—I have italicized a section because often what we fear to do the most may turn out to be the very thing we need.):

This work is so important, for so many reasons. The author was an English literature teacher for 40 years, so her ability to tell a story is beautifully honed. The story is very personal and very true, which gives it the power of integrity in the face of some very difficult truths to tell.

What's more, if you are someone who has suffered severe childhood trauma, you might find it quite comforting, in the midst of all of the discomfort of such truth, to find your story echoed, "out loud," in black and white, validated in print. I did. You might find your own story less daunting and shameful as you watch her victory unfold in the battle to recover her true self from the psychological prison of her past.

If you have wondered about the power of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or what the process can look like, this is a fantastic, up-close resource that might help you to decide how you might like to prepare and proceed with it, and what you might have to gain from the process.

While each person's history and personal perception will be unique, this story shares an in-depth view into some of the protective mechanisms and coping processes that can occur without our even knowing. We just know something doesn't feel "normal." You might find that your "abnormal" is perfectly sane and reasonable. (By PeteyRL2 on April 3, 2018)

To read or not to read. I leave that choice in your hands and could not possibly understand the hesitancy with any more compassion. My only thought is this: I wish I could have understood what I thought was wrong with me was as normal as the sun rising in the morning. This is the gift I have given to the world in BRAVE. Something bad happened and we figured out how to survive in completely normal ways!

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