The Child Within
I became aware of this hurt, scared, lost little child in a therapy session several weeks ago and although more than a little freaked out, I recognised her instantly. She was me; little me; my inner child; and I know this because I whole heartedly and heartbreakingly recognised, all of the pain in her eyes. I have always sensed that this inner child existed, because I have reacted in some situations, just like a child. Afterwards, I can look back and see that my reaction or behaviour was childish, but I can’t seem to prevent it from happening. I tried to write to and from, my inner child a few years ago, to give her a voice and to acknowledge her, to bring her to the forefront of my mind, but it did not really work. She was not ready to be seen, because I was not ready to see her.
Even though I knew who she was, it was very surreal being able to actually see her. The closest I have come to seeing her, before this sudden appearance, had been in tormenting flashbacks, that I am now able to watch play out. But this was different. This little girl started talking to me and tirelessly trying to get my attention, from the very first moment. I could hear her answering questions my therapist asked me and those I asked myself. There had been no interaction from this child in any of the flashbacks, because I guess they are like memories being played out; snapshots of actualities from the past.
She is 8 years old and looks like I did at that age, although she looks more weathered than I felt at the time. This is the age I connect to the commencement of sexual abuse. This makes perfect sense to me (now), as part of me were destined to be stuck at that age, not having the capability to process what happened. How does a child process that kind of treatment? I think I must have separated her from me, to protect her.
One of the first things I noticed about her, was that she had no anger towards me; I expected her to be angry with adult me, because I could do nothing to ease the pain I could see in her eyes. She spoke very quickly and very loudly, like my own daughter does. She moved me. I wanted to hold her hand. I wanted to pull her here, with me now; to the physical world. She was telling me things and trying to show me things, asking me questions about memories she had; memories we shared, that I had suppressed.
The most striking (and then disturbing) thing for me, was the fact that she was intently trying to show me three pictures. The pictures were unframed, exactly the same shape and of normal photo size, but they were very blurry and I could not make them out, as much as I wanted to see. When she realised that I could not see what she was trying to show me, she became very distressed and frustrated with me. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of uselessness, caused by not knowing what to do.
I was unsure whether this whole thing, was progress in my recovery journey, or whether I was actually having a full blown breakdown, combined with psychosis. I was scared, but she would not be ignored. With support and guidance from my therapist, I kept telling my adult self that this child was me, and this was just me connecting with myself and that this was normal, but I don’t think I truly believed that. I came away from that session dazed and confused, but the little girl followed me home and stayed with me all afternoon. I had no choice but to her accept her as being 100% there.
That first afternoon, with my new little shadow, was very tough. She had so much energy, when I felt so drained from the session and she was so unbelievably excited, which I found irritating. As my body took over, I had no choice but to sleep, but when I woke up I was shocked to discover that she was still there. She had a massive need to play and she asked me several times to take her to the swings. This is something I have felt a huge urge to do, many times, at periods when I have been particularly upset and I never really understood why I felt the need to go. I think it became apparent at that request, that my inner child has played more of an active role in my life over the last 20 years. I had just not been listening/seeing; I would not (could not) acknowledge or accept her there, wholly and completely.
I felt sad for this little kid, and I had a urge to look after her and protect her, although I did not know how. I had started to write a few months before she arrived. I was beginning to feel that I was able to start expressing myself, in a way others could understand, that I had found my medium in which to do this. Internally, I battled with suddenly having the words, versus, the fact I could not manage to make people hear me, when the abuse was actually happening. (I could not make the abuse stop and I was unsuccessful in securing help). So, when this little girl appeared I think I blamed her; it was her fault and her shortcomings that saw the abuse continue. I did not feel anger towards her, but I think I held her responsible for all of the pain and memories I have accessed and unlocked now; believing that she did not do enough to stop the abuse from happening.
I had no words for her at the start; I could only watch and observe her. I wrote about her and how she made me feel in a poem entitled, ‘Come take my hand‘. Being able to see her, meant that I could tell, from how innocent and playful she was, that she did not have the words to tell me what had happened to her, what had caused her so much pain. She did not have the vocabulary to explain all that she had endured. This was immensely important for me. For the first time I could truly see, that she was just a child and I felt a little less angry with her. I forgave her.
I have been able to speak to her since that first appearance. After a particularly tough therapy session I went to bed early to write a journal entry and I simply could not take anything else in. When this child appeared that night, I told her to go away, that I could not deal with her at that time. She did go, but she was very upset. I felt very guilty for blocking her and sending her away, but she forgave me. She has been a pretty persistent feature of daily life every since, but she comes and goes, dipping in and out.
She has fully jumped in with both feet into my life, but she still has the ability to surprise me. There are times when I actually enjoy her company. It warms my heart to watch her playing with my children, especially when I feel like I can’t. If I am honest, I am jealous of her ability to let go and be in the moment. Quite often, there is so much going on in my head, that I may be physically in the room, but completed distanced and disconnected from reality. This little girl, is very present with my children and I see her interacting with them. She sometimes epitomises everything I would like to be, and she is everything I am not. My children obviously have no idea that she is there, so the interaction is only one-way, but this little girl looks happy and comfortable with them. I do not remember much play from when I was a child; it is a nice thought that this child can play now.
There are times I do not like her company and she has an ability to make me feel completely terrible. My youngest child had to have surgery in July this year and although it was not a particularly difficult operation, it was a distressing time, as a mother, all the same. This little girl, my 8 year old self, attended the pre-op appointment, with my son and I. The nurse was amazingly reassuring and very thorough with our ward tour; so much so that she had answered all of my concerns and queries en route. I was hurt and emotional, when this little kid started to mock me in my mother’s voice. She started saying things like, “Ha ha ha. You can’t think of any questions” and “Call yourself a mother?” It cut me deeply, just like the things my mother had said ,when I lived with her before the age of 15.
I think this child has grown in confidence the longer she has been around and I am starting to feel like she is here for a purpose. This 8 year old, was shouting at me as the worst flashbacks played out in a therapy session about 4 weeks ago. She was asking me to help her, begging me to rescue her, while I watched scenes of horrific abuse play out, (more actualities), but I couldn’t; it is too late and these things are not happening now. 8 year old Tanya was crying in the harrowing flashback, which was odd, because I know that I did not cry. (Is she showing me that I can cry? And that it is OK?)
My other half went to bed before me, one night last week (as he often does) and he was sending text messages to me on the sofa, from our bed. I was very aware that this child came to sit beside me, on the sofa and she was reading my texts messages over my shoulder. Every message that contained “I love you”, she counteracted with, “I don’t believe you”, but the adult me, had believed every word. She suddenly disappeared so that I could no longer see her, but I was still able to hear her. She started chanting to me,“look in the mirror what do you see”, over and over again, and it completely felt like a message of something I need to do. I feel like I need to really stop and really look at myself in the mirror, truly see everything that others see. (Is she trying to show me something?). I think one of the three pictures she showed me at our first encounter, is actually a mirror.
There are some things about this little child which I recognise in myself. She has the bolshie bravado I used to display. A particularly poignant track started playing one evening as I turned on my Spotify play-list and I watched her as she began to dance. She turned to see if I was watching her (show off!), but she stopped when she saw that I was sad. It was the song my dad used to sing to my mum. She looked concerned; she has my compassion and empathy. There are some things about this child, that I do not recognise in me at all, like her ability to cry. (Will she teach me how?)
I have noticed how things have changed a little, since this child arrived. Flashbacks now feature me and her, switching interchangeably as they play out: sometimes I look how I look now; other times I look like that 8 year old kid. I have noticed and identified how we have differing triggers and things that spark an emotional reaction. She has shown me a lot about myself. I have discovered that I react to big, adult decisions, situations and problems, through the emotional eyes of that child. I doubt myself and my decisions all the time. I have learnt that the things that rock her and make her feel unsafe, are the things I struggle to make decisions about.
Since being removed from the family home at the age of 15, with the big dark secret, (still a secret to those who were there), I have gravitated towards strong women, who happen to be older than me. I think the little kid needs and seeks out mother figures. Am I supposed to mother this child? I have gone with the very real urges I have had, to revisit locations I remember from my childhood. My intention behind re-visiting has been to try and remember details, to try and change memories from bad ones to good, and to show my children some of the things I have seen. Has going back to places been about me looking after that little child?
Alcohol is a catalyst for the strength of this child’s visibility. The loss of control we both feel, stirs the need to be looked after, in us both. She turns in to a ‘kid that wont be told’ and all the anger she feels, surfaces. I become uncharacteristic and unrecognisable to people who care about me, in the here and now. I feel safe with the people around me, but this girl never really feels safe. We come from differing places of safety and alcohol makes her stronger, than me. I can’t control or contain her, or what she feels. I had no choice but to remove this catalyst, for now anyhow.
Although I did not initially understand, I am very grateful for this child’s arrival. Watching flashbacks before she appeared, was like watching someone else’s story and when I have spoken about my life, it has been like telling someone else’s story. Now it feels like my story. I strangely feel like now, she is watching me, looking after me, posing questions to me, with a purpose.
I feel like she is swimming happily in the sea, when she gets in to difficulty. I see her drowning and I can’t help her. I don’t know how to help her. I seek pearls of wisdom to throw her, from people I trust. I wish I knew how to connect to her or connect her to me. I feel like I have to do something for this little kid, to take away her pain and frustration. I feel like I need to own, all of the pain as mine, now I am an adult and better equipped to deal with it than her. I know she is me and I know she fears being abandoned again, but I don’t know how to comfort her or set her free.
I definitely feel like I need to set this child free and that all the things she has shown me, have been preparing me for this separation. I think that I need to acknowledge all of the triggers I feel, in a very different way. I think I need to ask myself whether is it my reaction or that of the child’s and that maybe this will help me to understand me and my own reactions better. She is definitely louder and more prolific when I have strong self doubt. Maybe this child is just a symbol and a self sabotaging personification, of all of my insecurities. Maybe when I feel unsafe, she is a safe place for me to return.
I don’t think she is ready to leave yet, and I don’t think I am ready to see her go. I have grown to love her company, but I definitely feel like she is moving closer towards me. Maybe she will not leave me until I can see the content of the other 2 pictures. I owe it to her to see this through.