How Connecting With My Inner Child Cultivated Healing

 

According to a nationwide survey, conducted by NSCH, nearly 35 million children have experienced some form of childhood trauma. When I first read this, I was dumbfounded. When I took a step back and thought about it, everyone I personally know has shared a similar connection with trauma. This statistic, although staggering, seems to be pretty accurate. Trauma can be subjective to perception, thus making it far more prevalent. I was no exception. In fact, I spent most of my life dancing with trauma until it became an insane crutch for my utter victimization.

I was 5 when I had my first encounter with trauma. Unequipped and invalidated, my experience was swept under the rug and that 5-year-old girl was instantly enslaved to fear. I had zero coping skills and no advocate to fight on my behalf. I remember being confused at the pressing questions that followed my accusations and honestly, I began to prefer avoidance over confronting the discomfort. Little did I know, all that little girl wanted was to be heard, protected, and loved.

Following my first experience, I fell prey to domestic violence. My childhood memories are comprised of lots of yelling, physical abuse, and consistent emotional dismantling. Repetitive minimization and avoidance led me to believe that I was getting what I deserved. I was a "bad girl". This unhealthy cycle continued as I began to tolerate and even sought out abuse.  

Thus I began establishing defense mechanisms that would ultimately lead to my demise. Trauma continued to be a common theme for me. Perhaps, I even sought it out. Chaos was comfortable, I always knew what to expect… more chaos. I struggled with the fundamental inability to cope. This led to my indulgence in utter avoidance, codependency, dissociation, and my ravishing addiction. I sabotaged any relationship that required the slightest bit of intimacy. I didn’t trust myself, much less anyone else. I ran from any form of confrontation. My actions made a clear statement on my behalf: I was driven by fear, enslaved to it. Finally, I couldn’t abuse enough substances, spend frivolously enough, or indulge in codependency enough to numb the pain. Legal consequences brought me to my knees and I surrendered.

I was beaten into a state of submission, by my self induced chaos, and I checked myself into a dual diagnosis treatment center. I assumed treatment would serve the sole purpose of helping to relieve me of my alcoholism. My naivety was demolished once I was forced to take a look at the root of why I relentlessly sought out oblivion. Drugs and alcohol were not my problem, they were my solution. The solution to my inability to comfort, soothe, protect, and love that little girl that lost herself to trauma so long ago.

My therapist presented a specialized modality called Inner Child Therapy. I vividly remember her telling me I needed to engage with that little girl. She told me I needed to “Hug and comfort her, tell her everything will be okay.” Instantly, feelings of discomfort propelled my knee-jerk reaction to retreat. I wanted to puke. 

How could I connect to a part of me that I spent 20 years of my life dissociating from? My memories were vague, drowned out by every substance, abusive relationship, and self-destructive behavior. I worked so hard to erase that entire time period from my memory bank. The truth is, I hadn’t erased anything… I had suppressed each passing painful memory, only for them to reappear years later.

Later in my sobriety, I realized that I was still utterly miserable. I was in the middle of pursuing a domestic violence case, against my boyfriend. I spent 3 months in total isolation. Negative self-talk became the only advice I sought out. Feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, pain, and crippling fear became me. There I was, almost 2 years sober, yet my life mirrored my childhood. I felt absolutely defeated. I was that little girl, invalidated and unacknowledged, suffering in isolation.

I came upon a turning point: I was either going to drink again or take action. I sought out trauma therapy. Ignorant and rebellious by nature, I was surprised to hear that the flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, and sleep deprivation were symptoms of PTSD. I was suffering from a disorder and I was unequipped to walk through it alone.

I sought out therapy again, but this time was different. I was willing to go to any lengths to find healing. It wasn't long before my new therapist brought attention to my lack of childhood memories. The reality is, I purposefully detached from most of that time period of my life. But the key to healing is to unravel all of that pain and to walk through the fire. I began opening myself up to the idea that maybe that little girl needed healing. I was gracefully reminded that all of the fear, rejection, abandonment, and pain was not of that little girl's making.

As I continued to bring more awareness and attention, to my inner child, the more willing I became to be vulnerable, empathetic, and loving towards her. I was no longer waiting for someone to ride in and save me. I became my own protector. I began to validate myself. Self-love became a priority. I was able to navigate through my PTSD without the aid of medication. Meditation and spirituality became the remedy for my mental deficiencies. 

Grace and miraculous healing met me in that place. I began to feel empowered and comforted, all at once. All along, I was too busy condemning the scared little girl rather than becoming one with her. Today, I spend less time condemning and more time accepting myself, right where I am. I have developed a more compassionate approach when dealing with my (sometimes) seemingly erratic behaviors. As I am raising two little ones myself, I am learning to show myself the same unconditional love and patience with myself. After all, everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be. Venturing down the road to healing old wounds, I have come to find new happiness and new freedom.

 

 

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Tricia -

What a beautiful, and beautifully written, story. The connection between ACEs and addiction is irrefutable.  The increased likelihood we’re going to become addicts, seek deadly and dangerous behaviors?  In most instances it might as well be written on a prescription pad. UNLESS there are is a caring adult around to be a buffer. And that is no guarantee. 

I feel and so, so understand your pain. It is my hope that more therapists — and that the addiction and therapy communities as a whole — become more aware of ACEs Science. I would love to see a study of how many drug and alcohol treatment professionals know about ACEs Science, and how many use it as a means of helping their clients/patients understand THE WHY. Understanding THE WHY we had acted out in the ways we did is liberating. It helps relieve shame, blame, guilt to know that these traumas actually changed brain structure and function. 

The layers of this stuff? It all runs deep. Especially as we unravel “the wreckage of our past.”  I really hate that line sometimes. The high-minded part of me wants to say something about the “wreckage becoming the firm foundation” and dang. It’s just some painful stuff. The dichotomy of that stuff NOT being our fault, and of our needing to become our own hero, take personal responsibility, buck up? Sometimes it all gets mixed up. 

AND - at the core of it all, you have identified that big deal action step: accepting and loving that little girl who “split” to save herself.  And doing the footwork and availing ourselves of the methods of resilience: community, meditation, self-care, the inner-child work to help re-wire our brains. Lo, that more people, especially people of color, people in poverty, people bound by structural racism and multi-generational oppression - could have awareness of access to the information and support we’ve accessed. And that is what we are about at ACEs Connection - letting people know about the tools and ways to help prevent and heal childhood trauma;  build resilience. Your article is another piece of how this all works: sharing truths, involving others, nurturing ourselves and each other, celebrating the wins, including others in the process and on the journey. 

I wish you all manner of success in creating happy, joyous, wondrous times with your children. Being able to give them the nurture, comfort and stability all children deserve will help you give those gifts to your inner little girl.  

Please keep writing and sharing. Thank you for being part of the ACEs Connection community.  

Tricia, thanks for sharing your journey. Finding, reviving and honoring that wounded inner child takes lots of courage, pain, understanding, and acceptance. Healing that inner child is about feeling safe and free again.

I too am in the process of nurturing and honoring that little girl who had to become adult without really growing up emotionally because there was no one was there to show her the ropes.

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