In our journeys from disability to wholeness, often what holds us back is the inability to forgive ourselves. When accident or disease strikes suddenly, it is difficult to accept that there may be no good reason why it happened. And so we go searching for a reason, a cause that can lead to understanding and, perhaps, acceptance. Sometimes it is slow in coming; and sometimes it seems like it may never arrive. It is then that we turn inward and assign the ultimate cause — I am to blame.
Blaming oneself may happen subconsciously, lurking like a shadow just below the surface of our thoughts. We may feel its presence from time to time, yet we go on day to day, acting like everything is all right.
It can happen to anyone for any reason: You have had two drinks at a party and drive home, slightly tipsy. An animal darts in front of you, you swerve, the car rolls, and you wake up in the ICU, paralyzed. Or you fall asleep in the back seat, tired from working a long day, the driver swerves, the car rolls, and you wake up in the ICU, paralyzed. Or, exhausted from a long trip to see relatives, you return home, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning, paralyzed for no apparent reason, then go to the ICU, where you learn a rare disease has attacked your spinal cord.
Without clear understanding, you can always find a reason to blame yourself: You should not have had those two drinks; you should have stayed alert instead of falling asleep in the back seat; you were living a selfish life and the disease is some kind of punishment sent from above.
In my case, the Civil Aeronautics Board determined that my friend, the pilot of the plane, was at fault for crashing in the mountains. Yet I alone knew that it was my desire to visit a girlfriend that led us into the dangerous box canyon on a hot day with too little lift, too little power in the single-engine Cessna, with a pilot with too little experience. When I woke up, paralyzed, knowing my friend had died in the crash, I blamed myself, and continued blaming myself for more than five years.
Then came the real crash — the one that took my entire being down after five years of running from self-guilt. In some ways it was worse than the physical crash. I knew that, despite my paralysis, I could get around, live a life, do things. But when the problem is soul-deep — I am to blame, I got what I deserved — it feels like there is no escape.
I finally turned from self-blame and asked God to forgive me. It took a few more years before I could believe that I had been forgiven, for everything — all my selfish behavior — out of God’s love. Then, and only then, could I make peace with myself.
No, I am not to blame. That blaming inner voice did not come from love. Like the Good Book says: “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”