I have finally found the source of my hurt and my pain. The place where my anxiety and PTSD reside. The space within me that reacts with such an intense, emotional ferocity that I separate from reality. Reality becomes too frightening, and my brain protects me by disassociating. It is terrifying. It is debilitating.
It has stopped.
The source of this pain isn’t a thing, it is a person. Her name is Amy, she is seven years old, and she lives right in the space where my belly is. She has been there a very, very long time and I am finally strong enough to see her, and to help her.
One morning just a few weeks ago, I woke up and felt her there, clear as day. She was a dark, shadowy little figure, curled into the fetal position, lying on her side. She was scared and alone and I could see her with my mind’s eye as if she were right in front of me.
My mind has finally begun to separate itself from the trauma that I experienced as a child. My mind is finally strong enough to understand that I am not my trauma. For months and months when my mind and body would be hijacked by PTSD, I would try to separate myself from it. But in those moments, when it felt like I was being eaten alive by terror, it was quite impossible to do anything except seek support from a close friend and ride it out.
I had been going about my healing all wrong. I was trying to ignore the pain and the anguish. I wanted to delete the PTSD and the grief from my being; from my life. But that wasn’t the answer, not at all. The little terrified child within me was screaming at me, “Look at me! See me!! I am right here and I do not want to feel ignored or invisible any longer.” The more I pushed her away and tried to silence her, the worse I felt. I kept trying to reject those broken parts of me when the answer wasn’t pushing them away, it was accepting them and embracing them. Completely.
I know now, with certainty, that my 43 year-old self is strong, fearless, and safe. Whereas my seven year-old self is a small, terrified, traumatized child who is a part of me, but she is not me. I have finally tapped into the power within myself; I have stopped giving it away to other people. It is my belief, that had I not taken the time and space to reclaim myself and my power, this incredible shift into this new phase of healing would not have been possible.
When I began to visualize my seven year-old self, and all of the realizations that came with that began to solidify, I knew exactly what I had to do.
I had to keep this child safe. I had to reassure her that she matters, her feelings matter, and most importantly, she is not invisible. I am re-parenting the parts of myself that need to be soothed, with a gentle peace and patience. This is the single most important thing I have done on this long and winding road towards healing. I have finally begun to walk down a different road and this road absolutely leads toward the healthiest future I can imagine. I have imagined this beautiful future before, but until now, I was certain it wasn’t real or possible.
I knew instinctively, the things I needed to do to begin this process of caring for the burdened child within me. I began speaking to her out loud. It felt really silly and embarrassing at first (even though I was doing it in private). But, after a time, I got used to the sound of my own voice reassuring her in gentle tones, that her feelings of anxiety mattered, and that I would keep her safe. I also knew exactly when she needed that reassurance. As soon as I started to notice the anxiety building up within my body, I’d speak to her and let her know she was safe. I began to sit calmly and whisper to her with my hand on my belly and the anxiety would fade. Instantly. Silent, peaceful tears would run down my face as I sat there, acknowledging the deep, decades old part of me that just needed to feel heard and loved.
I am still practicing these things. They are so simple and they come easily to me. My seven-year old self isn’t lying curled up in a ball any longer. I have visualized her sitting up and placing her hands on an invisible wall; she is curious. She is beginning to trust me and I am learning how much love she needed as a child who was taught that feeling scared or sad or worried was unacceptable. She was taught that she needed to be tough, she needed to put on her armor and take care of everyone in her family. Her childhood was derailed at age seven when her father became so mentally ill he was institutionalized. Her childhood stopped completely at age nine when she watched him die.
I am 43 now. I have experienced more trauma in my life that I will work through eventually; but this is my big work. Right now. My aching, broken parts will always live within me. My trauma and my grief will always be a part of who I am. But now, I can heal those parts and keep them safe. I can love them in all of the ways that I love my own children. That small, scared child can relax now; she can let go of worry. She can let go of the exhaustion of trying to hold it all together and take care of everyone else; because it is my turn to take care of her.
Just recently, I found the poem below that I wrote at age 18. I remember writing it as my essay to get into The University of Vermont (ballsy, but it worked). At the time I had no idea what it meant exactly, but I understood that it came from somewhere buried deep inside of me.
Twenty-five years later, I know exactly what it means:
Fare Thee well, my little friend!
It has been a long time since I have let you out to play. To dance in the wind, and soak up the sunshine with your tattered blonde hair. What care had you for grown-up things?
But you grew cobwebs. Left alone in that dark, desolate corner; crawling with shadows.
Hold on, my precious child. For I will return, to knock on your door.
To play in the sunshine.