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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

WHAT IF It's Not Your Fault?

In his book, At the End of the Sidewalk, Shel Silverstein writes,

Last night, while I lay thinking here,

some Whatifs crawled inside my ear

and pranced and partied all night long

and sang their same old Whatif song

This is followed by a very long list of possible things a child might worry about—such as having poison in her cup. The struggle is real.

My greatest worry was that people would know that I really wasn’t OK inside; maybe even to admit to myself that I wasn’t OK. After all, I seemed so successful, so well-liked, so put together (well unless my slip slid down around my ankles and got caught on my boot buckles). I laughed, I helped people, I did good works, I taught and mentored. Nowhere in my life did the “what if” I have a mental illness seem possible—but I did worry.

Then one glorious day, I sat back on the therapy couch and said, “This was never my fault.” In all of my “what if” moments, the idea of my inner struggles not being my fault and healable, NEVER entered my mind. NEVER. Not once.

I have the companion book to BRAVE finished (I hear my previewers laughing because I keep having to send them updates). The book is titled, A BRAVE CHILDHOOD: Jeannie’s Story, Understanding Behavior through the Lens of Trauma and Attachment. (That title is necessary, but way long. I will simply call it BRAVE CHILDHOOD in my writing.) As I wrote, the following truth became increasingly clear to me:

Nothing was wrong with me. Bad things happened to me.

So much in our world is about a diagnosis. I ran across a website where you can put in your symptoms and it will name several possible diagnoses. Ok, here is my list: Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and Dissociative Identity Disorder, to name a few.

Wait! Those aren’t symptoms! Each of those is a diagnosis. Exactly. We are calling the cause the problem and the problem the cause. What a muddled mess. The cause is the key. There is always a cause.

The church says sin is the cause.

The medical community has said genetics is the cause.

The sufferer says, “I am the cause.”

All this gets us nowhere. What if attachment wounding, childhood experiences, and/or trauma is the cause. What if our suffering is not our fault. What if we could heal and no longer suffer? What if we no longer had to feel the shame and stigma of a diagnosis that is not very helpful in understanding why we are suffering?

One day I sat on my therapist’s couch and unwound a memory in which I had felt completely responsible for the abuse of another because I had been “needy.” The moment I realized it was not my fault, was the most freeing moment of my entire life. I had about a million layers to go in order to heal the damage caused by my insecure attachment issues, but I understood. It was never my fault.

I don’t have any problem with saying I suffered a mental illness, because what happened to me as a child changed my brain in very unhealthy ways. What I no longer believe is that I am “less than” because of it. I am “more than” because I survived.

I only wish that I could have had someone help me as a child—like the child in the poem who worries about everything from poison to the bus being late. What if someone had said, “Something very bad happened to you and it makes you worry a lot, but I can help you heal so the shame and worry doesn’t consume you.”

Wow! What if?

What if “that thing inside of you” which you don’t want anyone to know about isn’t your fault? What if there is help? What if you can heal? What if there is hope?

What if you could join me in my new life where my new list of “what ifs” is about the good in my life which I can finally begin to enjoy. What if the abundant life really is possible and waiting to be found inside of each of us?

What if my very BRAVE decision to tell my story could help others realize it really isn’t their fault? I took a huge chance on that being true and now I know some “what ifs” really do come true—and it isn’t the other shoe falling like I always believed it would be. There really wasn't any poison in the cup.

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