A few years ago, I read an amazing novel called Sounds Like Crazy. The main character was a woman who had multiple personalities, and the novel was brilliantly constructed to reveal both her outer and inner life.
The inner life was way more interesting.
She had a couple of people in there. One was a Southern debutante — she was the bitch. There was a 400-pound woman who sat on a pillow on the stage-right side of Holly’s head, making her walk slightly tilted. And there’s a little kid in there, but all you ever see of him are his red sneakers.
The brilliance of the book aside, I’m starting to feel like I can relate. Before you call the white-coats in, let me explain.
I’ve been working with a business coach, and I as I may have mentioned, instead of working on goal setting, strategic thinking, etc., she’s having me love on my inner child. She has us picture a car (to represent our life — mine’s a pink Cadillac) and explains that as long as we’re on automatic pilot, this little child is driving the car. She shows us how to lovingly remove that child from the driver’s seat, love on her, and move her to the back, where she belongs. Then slip into the driver’s seat ourselves.
Now, let me say I have been to Al-Anon meetings and I’ve been in talk therapy (twice) and really? I just got tired of hearing myself talk. I have long acknowledged that there are things in my childhood that hurt. But I have also often told myself and others, “Big deal. Lot’s of kids go through way worse than I did. Waaaayyyyy worse. I’m over it.”
But this going back, going deep inside and loving on this little kid — this is hard work. It’s draining. It’s heavy emotion. And I’m tired, and I am starting to feel emotionally shut down. But it’s interesting, because Sounds Like Crazy has been coming to my mind a lot as I’ve been working through this process.
Each time I go in (through meditation) I find a new little me running around in there, causing havoc, needing some parenting. There’s the five or so year old who likes to drive; she seems to be running the show. There’s the angry, brooding thirteen year old. There’s even the constantly love-sick twenty year old. Every once in a while, one of them takes over and, as my coach tells me to do, I lovingly take them out of the driver’s seat and shoo them into the backseat, letting them know they’ve done a great job, but now I got this.
But there’s a new kid on the block today.
Let me backtrack a little.
Right now, I am in complete emotional shutdown mode. I can’t work. I can’t think. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe.
I have often been told I am distant, hard to approach, intimidating (ha ha.). And when I think about it, it’s true. By thirteen, I had learned to put a mask of complete disinterest on my face. My “boyfriend” breaks up with me? Shrug and move on — don’t cry till you get home. My best friends write me a horribly mean note? Smile and nod. Smile. And. Nod. I know I put that mask on, those walls up to keep people from seeing my hurt. But why?
Enter the new kid.
I think she’s about 6. It’s late at night (for a 6 year old). She is in her room, supposed to be in bed. Her mother is in the other room, doing what mothers do after the kid is in bed. Her father is out at the bar.
But through the front door he noisily comes, words typically slurred, calling her mother’s name. He is in a good mood; he is excited about something. “You gotta come hear this band!” he says to her mother. “You have to come hear them!” He was always the fun guy, the life of the party, the charmer. “But what about Kerry?” she responds. “Oh, she’ll be fine,” he says. The little girl moves to the doorway of her room. She is supposed to be sleeping, so she makes no sound. She looks out onto the kitchen, where her mother is gathering her things to the encouragement by her father to hurry.
It’s a straight line of sight from her bedroom door, through the kitchen, to the front door. As they move like a mini-tornado toward the main entrance, the little girl opens her door a little wider, a silent alert that she is there, awake, she’s not blissfully sleeping, unaware of their abandonment. She says nothing.
They get closer to the door; it was left open in her father’s excitement. He is already gone, leading the way, charging the cause to drink and party. As her mother moves through the door, her hand on the doorknob, she briefly turns, sees the little girl in her bedroom doorway, completely open now. She makes eye contact, but offers no words of reassurance. She keeps her eyes on the little girl and silently closes the door behind her.
Instant panic. Silent, open-mouthed, gaping tears. The nightgown is clutched. The fear is absolute and complete. She walks through the house, desperate to go to the window to watch for their return, but terrified of what she will see in the dark. Terrified. She walks over the familiar oval woven rug, past the tv stand, into the dining room and back, walking in circles. Maybe she hugs the dog. She’s been alone before — she was a latch key kid, after all. But that was different. That was in the brightness of day, when all the kids were on the street, and the nosy neighbors were there to keep an eye on her. Now, in the darkness, the whole world was sleeping. There was no one to go to, and even if there was, she would first have to cross the great black divide of her darkened, dead-end street.
Maybe it was twenty minutes. Maybe it was two hours. She is in panic mode, high-adreneline the entire time they are gone. Their eventual return is noisy and angry. She is mad at him, and he is mad at her. Their fun night has turned sour. The little girl has run back to her room and is standing in the doorway as they move separately through the kitchen. Her mother’s mouth is pursed. Her father’s face contorted in a frown. “WHERE WERE YOU?” the little girl bellows through angry, yet relieved tears from the safety of her bedroom door. “YOU LEFT ME ALONE!” The mother doesn’t answer; just moves out of sight into the bathroom. The father looks at her with disgust. His response to her outburst is angry and dismissive. She doesn’t remember the words, just the message: “You have no right to be mad. You’re fine. I am mad. You ruined my night by existing. Go to bed.”
The little girl went to bed alone. There were no hugs of reassurance. No soothing the fear and the hurt. Surely no apologies. Maybe she slept, eventually.
It was never spoken of again.
Smile and nod, boys. Smile and nod.
When this little girl arrives in my meditation, she is in the drivers seat, huddled into a ball. I switch back and forth — sometimes I place myself in the scene and try to reassure her that I am there. Sometimes she is back in the drivers seat of the car. Both times, I take her in my arms and try to rock her, soothe her. But she refuses to unfurl herself. She is rigid with fear.
So I call in the Big Guns. I call in Jesus. I carefully hand her over to Him and for Him, she opens just long enough to thrust her arms in a tight grip around His neck; her legs a vice around His waist, a deathlock around the life-force, she opens only to Him, and only just so much. He has time to hold her forever. I give her to Him. He’s the only one trustworthy.
Recently, I was speaking with a relative who happens to be a psycho-therapist about his whole loving on the inner child thing. She made a comment about how as an adult, when people leave us, it might feel like we are dying, because as a child, when people leave us, it actually could be a matter of life or death. And we know it somehow. And I am realizing that on that night, it was a matter of life or death for me. I was terrified for my life. My sole source of protection — apart my decrepid, ancient and smelly Irish Setter — had walked out the door into the depth of night.
And when they returned, they had made it clear that my fear was not rational; that my anger was unjustified. That I was wrong. Wrong. Not worthy of comfort. Not worthy of care. Go to bed. You ruined our night. Mommy and Daddy are fighting now because of you. Go to bed. Don’t talk about this again.
And my walls were built. The minute I start loving someone I prepare for when they leave. When I was young I loved too easily, searching for the comfort I didn’t get as a child. Now, I don’t love easily anymore. And I build walls so they will never see my anger, my hurt, my fear.
I stay inside my walls, and let the monsters stay outside.