Dear Kind Therapists:
I know you’re probably thinking I should be over this whole break-in thing already. I’m trying, I really am, but as I told you, some issues take time to work through. Our front door is still not repaired, and today, when I went to retrieve a file, I realized the bad guy had tried to open my locked cabinet. In light of such ongoing challenges, I ask you to bear with me a little longer. Your support has been critical to my progress thus far and I thank you for that. I’ll be my chipper self again soon, I promise.
When something bad happens, as it did this week, I find myself wondering whether I might have changed the outcome somehow by doing something differently. I have been preoccupied with thoughts of whether I could have done anything to prevent the break in. I don’t think these thoughts are very helpful.
That fateful day, I was out for three hours, more than enough time for someone to break in, take stuff, make lunch, heck, even do a load of laundry. What if I had allowed my friend to pick me up and drop me off, as she had initially planned? What if I had come straight home rather than running errands after coffee? Had I been out for a shorter time, would I have greeted the intruder? What if I were home when he tried to break in? Would he have left upon hearing someone in the house? What if he hadn’t realized I was home and broke in?
Here’s the what if I’m stuck on, though: The day prior to the break in, I thought I heard someone outside our back door, but I convinced myself it was an animal. My mind flashed to whether I’d forgotten a booked client, but I quickly realized I had none booked. What would have happened if I had checked the back door? Would I have scared the bad guy off and prevented the next day’s break in?
It’s human nature to wonder if we could have changed the course of events, especially the bad ones. What if I’d taken a different driving route, what if I’d taken my child to the doctor sooner, what if I’d not gone home with that guy…the possibilities are endless. The what ifs allow us to maintain an illusion of control in a situation where we may have none. And because we believe we should have been able to alter the outcome, we often feel guilty or sad or distressed that we didn’t. I don’t know about you, but I have never met anyone who could change the past. That’s why we have to let go of the what ifs so we can process what has happened rather than remaining tortured by it.
I tell myself that I am not responsible for the bad things that randomly happen to me. That’s why I feel so strongly that my cancer isn’t my fault. If someone gives me definitive proof that I’ve done something to make myself ill–it must have been the Joe Louis snack cakes I overconsumed as a teen–I’ll have to change my thinking, but for now I maintain that I did not bring this illness on myself. Same for someone breaking in to our house and taking our precious belongings and, with them, our feelings of safety and security. If I can believe that I really couldn’t have stopped the break in from happening, I’ll probably be able to let it go sooner.
Thanks for your patience as I work through these issues. I’ll be able to manage without your support again soon. Hey, I forgot to ask, what’s your hourly rate? I don’t want to be surprised when the invoice arrives.