Why me? Self-Blame and The Fine Art of Bargaining with God

Why me? When things ‘go wrong’ it's a question we can't help but ask. For the first couple years of my own illness, I was plagued by this question and by feelings of shame. I was hell bent on trying to figure out what I had done to cause my misfortune and left no stone unturned in my quest to figure it out. I couldn’t understand how I, of all people, got sick. I ate well, meditated, did yoga, was aware of my thoughts and emotional patterns, slept a good deal, and didn’t drink. “How could something so horrible happen to me?” I’d think, “I’m a good person.”

The truth is that before this happened, I secretly thought I was special and somehow exempt from life's horrible 'detours'. We learn at some point that if we are good boys and girls that nothing bad will happen to us. Eventually though, it becomes clear that this logic is bullshit. Regardless of who we are or how we are, we realize that we are not exempt. Nobody is.

I thought that if I could get a handle on why this catastrophe had happened to me that I’d be able to make it ‘un-happen’. Brainwashed in part by the 'law of attraction' philosophy that sells us the idea that we create our reality, I was sure that I was personally responsible for my illness and that if I had done this I could also ‘undo it’. So much of my shame came from feeling personally responsible for my illness and feeling as though I was a ‘bad creator’. I carried the unbearable weight of this self-blame for months.

I left no stone unturned in my quest to regain my health. My diet became more and more austere as the days of illness turned into weeks and months. I had quit processed food, dairy, and sugar years prior and already ate organic, so I cut out gluten and caffeine in hopes of shifting things in my favor. When that didn’t cause the miracle I was looking for I introduced tons of raw food and vegetable juices into my diet. After being mostly ‘raw’ and eating salads and other ‘high vibration’ foods for months on end and still feeling as sick as ever, I was exhausted by trying so hard and finally 'got' that the way I was feeling had nothing to do with what I was eating.

There was nothing I could put in my mouth that would grant me the golden ticket back to health. I can see in hindsight that I was bargaining with spirit through my relationship with food. Bargaining, one of the 5 key stages in the Kübler-Ross grief process, is the stage in which we try to weasel our way out of catastrophe by ‘being good’. We attempt to sacrifice certain things in hopes earning our way back into god’s good books.

I was trying to strike a deal with the divine that said, “If I eat only pure foods and leave out all my indulgences, you will give me my health back.” While this approach may work for some lifestyle illnesses, unfortunately, my illness had very little to do with lifestyle and the ‘health gods’ made it clear that they really didn’t give a shit how much broccoli I ate. I slowly reintroduced coffee, my favorite indulgence and morning ritual, and let myself have some dark chocolate and other things that I take pleasure in.

Amidst the adjustments I made to my diet, I also delved into a couple years of intense ‘personal growth work’ that included healing my family of origin wounds, massive forgiveness work on myself and others, and an unshakeable commitment to releasing personal patterns that no longer served me like the tendency to be a ‘people pleaser’ at my own expense. I likened this phase of my healing journey to being like a rototiller churning up the roots of my identity, my assumptions about reality, and basically chewing up the foundation of my former life story.

While I did all this transformative emotional and physical work in the hopes of ‘earning’ my health back I actually felt sicker than ever before. I did notice however that I was better able to befriend myself in the midst of my suffering and increasingly able to meet my discomfort with compassion. My capacity to be with myself on the vast and barren land of illness was growing by the day.

Eventually, I was blaming myself less and loving myself more. I was stronger and more solid at an essence level than I had ever known myself to be. Simultaneously, my former identity felt increasingly unhinged and irrelevant. I knew that I was no longer the person that I used to be or the person that I used to think I was.

I learned that my illness was ‘not personal’. It’s not the result of some grave mistake I made or some wrongdoing on my part. I had prayed for months to be shown what I was missing or told what I needed to do or not do to get well. I felt like damaged goods or like I had been left out in the dark by spirit or god. How can a divine that cares about me stand by while I suffer like this day after day? The desperation to be shown an exit was unbearable at times and the days and nights of suffering were the darkest that I have ever known.

I know now that I was not being punished. The divine did not turn its back on me. I understand that I signed up for a harrowing experience that would be the ‘seed in the dark soil’ of my life’s true purpose and that there was no other way for me to become the person that this experience has made me into. While there are still hard days and tears they happen in a deeper container of presence and a growing sense of meaning and purpose.

The answer to ‘why me?’ has changed from the early days. I’ve matured my comprehension of myself, my life journey, and the role of suffering in the human experience. I had to 'grow up' my understanding of the divine beyond a model of reward and punishment.

I find myself trusting more and bargaining less. Oh…and I’m not eating so much salad.

Copyright © 2015 Marie-Ève Bonneau

PHOTO CREDIT: M. BONNEAU

PHOTO CREDIT: M. BONNEAU