For many years, I was stoic about life.
It made me tough and hard to handle, but I liked the edge it gave me. I had an “I don’t care” attitude. I was strong and rugged.
At first, I was sad, but then, I became mad and no one could mess with me again.
I had closed off my heart and decided that no one would be able to get too close to it. My innocent child self had trusted too many times before but was let down time and time again.
This created my hard exterior, this turtle shell. No one would be able to fool me anymore.
Fast forward 30 years to today, and I realize that childhood abuse has run my life. It has made me feel small and invalid. The names I was called were engraved on my heart like a tattoo, and as much as I tried to show people that I wasn’t who they said I was, I still felt that way on the inside.
I tried to carry myself differently. Buy new clothes and look like the roles they made me feel. I tried to laugh with people during happy hours, but on the inside, my darkened, tattooed heart told me the truth about how I really felt.
I ate better and exercised. I tried therapy and medication. I shopped till I dropped. I found food to be a great comfort. I slept more than I should have. I even hid away in my darkness.
But when I hit rock bottom, I realized that my darkened heart was running my life. It was running the show and telling me all sorts of lies. Lies I had been brought up to believe about myself.
I found I had been in denial and had dissociated from the pain I felt, maybe until my body could handle feeling it. Until I felt safe enough.
It’s hard to fall apart when you have small children and a persona to keep up with. But one day, it just happened. I cracked my chest open and looked at that sad, darkened heart. I asked myself, “What is going on?” “Why are you still sad after all these years?” For sure, we should be better by now. Right?
My heart told me that I hadn’t paid attention—that I hadn’t looked within. I had been running and gunning and acting tough. I had been acting brave when actually, I had been too scared to look within.
I thought that if I stopped to see the pain I was carrying, I would be stuck forever, wallowing in it and eventually die. But the truth my heart told me on that day was that the only way for the pain to stop running my life was to stop and face it head-on. I had to look at it in the eyes; I had to breathe it in and feel all of its sadness for it to dissipate. I needed to acknowledge the pain for it to feel empowered enough to let me live in peace.
The sad little girl in my heart, who’s wearing a black leather jacket of bravado, needed to be seen. She needed to know that it wasn’t her fault. She could come out now; she was safe.
Sometimes, living in denial and dissociation from the pain in our childhoods makes us feel like it happened to someone else. But when we realize that these sad or hurtful things have actually happened to us, it can feel heavy.
Sometimes, our pain is used as fuel to promise we will treat our own families differently. But sometimes, we can’t help but carry on similar traits. Other times, we might break the cycle.
But mostly, we need to look within and ask ourselves what we needed back then and try to give that to ourselves now. It can be a warm bath, a gentle touch, someone to read to us and tuck us in bed, or a stuffed toy to sleep with at night.
Our goal is to feel warm and safe so that our hearts and inner child can begin to trust us. They want to know we won’t abandon them again when we didn’t know any better. We were scared and were just trying to survive, but now, we know better.
We need to breathe in the peace and calm of being humans in this human experience. We need to let go of any anxiety and fear about the future.
We need to remember the things that happened to us, not to dwell on them, but to know that we are overcomers who can help others through our experiences too.
We have surrendered, and we know how it feels to let our intuition take the lead instead of our fearful impulses. We can breathe through the feelings of our trauma resurfacing, and we can share them now. We feel safe enough to dig up and excavate those deep, dark parts of our souls that we had left untended.
We can ask for a hug when we need it, and we can write and pray. We have surrendered now, and we’re no longer playing the role of the tough person who was full of pain. The surrendered version of ourselves is soft and pliable, but you still wouldn’t want to mess with them because of where they’ve been.
Sometimes, this work feels monotonous and like a daily job. But it is necessary.
We must reaffirm and remember who we truly are, let go of all the lies that tell us we are not good enough and won’t amount to anything, learn to release those tender parts of our being, and let our vulnerabilities have their way with us. We need to find gratitude in being able to do this work and no longer exist like zombies who are going through the motions of this life.
We can feel now and through our feelings; we can heal too.
We can become the version of ourselves that we hoped we would become.
We can be allies for our younger selves.