I still remember what it felt like to sit beside my bed with a spiral notebook in my lap and my favorite blue rollerpoint pen in my hand. I was at that awkward stage in my preteen years and trying to figure out who I was. In a nurturing, loving, and safe environment, it would have been a lot more simple for me to figure this out. But I did not live in this kind of home. While my basic physical needs were met and my mother and brother loved me the best they knew how, my adopted father had never been safe and all of my memories around him involved walking on eggshells. One wrong word or deed could result in living days of what felt like to me hell on earth.
When I was a little girl, my adopted father suffered a nervous breakdown while working as the vice president of a bank. At the time, we lived what appeared to be a successful, small town life in a three story house that backed up to the local country club. I remember finding golf balls in our backyard and going to the pool with my neighborhood friends. I remember my brother’s big wedding and smiling photographs and beautiful dresses. I remember fine China and priceless antiques in our formal living and dining rooms. I can still recall the excitement I felt at Christmas going down the stairs and Santa being very generous to me. But I also remember the loud voices coming from outside my room, and my mother and me sneaking away from my alcoholic father with my uncle in the wee hours of the morning. I remember my father locked in his office with a gun, and the police taking him to jail for writing bad checks. Everything we had was there one day and gone the next. I packed up what I could in a few bags and left our three story house with my parents for the final time. I remember my mother telling me the bank was coming to get everything else because my father had bounced checks. I didn’t understand and it all seemed so unfair. My adopted father ranted and raged about the betrayal of the people he’d worked with at the bank who were taking everything. I was overwhelmed and so sad that I had to leave my bike, my stuffed animals and my beautiful canopy bed behind.
After this happened, my parents were separated for a brief period of time. My father was drinking and living in a mobile home with a roommate in a nearby town. My few memories of staying with them are dark and traumatic and my mind worked hard repressing them to keep me safe. I do remember feeling relieved when my parents got back together, because it meant I never had to be left alone with him again. But living with him had it’s problems too. After spending time in a psychiatric hospital and receiving multiple shock treatments, he wasn’t drinking, but he was still a raging alcoholic. While he was no longer abusing me sexually, he was abusing me mentally. But I didn’t understand this at the time. I believed things only got bad when I was bad, so I spent a lot of time in my room by myself watching movies, reading books and trying to survive by escaping inside my mind.
I didn’t know at the time that it is common for children growing up in these kinds of traumatic environments to blame themselves for what is happening, to take responsibility that a child was never supposed to have. I didn’t know that keeping everyone happy with me was my nervous system’s response to help me survive.
I picked up my notebook and pen that day as a preteen in an attempt to write myself out of my suffering. I wrote stories about characters with special powers to fight evil men and monsters. I hid these stories under my bed, so that my parents could not see. I didn’t know that I was a creative person. I felt shame about what I wrote.
Inner child work has taught me that if as adults we are able to revisit our childhood and observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity, we can begin to heal. Therapy, my coaching classes,and other books and resources have helped me to understand a lot about complex childhood trauma. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in all the information I have received. But sometimes all of the information fits into my story like the missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Some especially valuable information I have learned recently, is how internal family systems teaches me to get to know my inner child and who she could have been if she hadn’t been fighting so hard to survive.
Sometimes I just like to sit and watch the younger version of myself writing. She had an uncanny ability to weave stories together with crazy twists and turns and characters who were so lifelike. She had an intuition about people and what went on inside their heads, and she enjoyed imagining how they would respond in certain situations. She usually made herself the hero, because it felt good to help others and overcome the evil in the world.
She had a lot of desires, too. Outside of wanting to be like Supergirl or Samantha on Bewitched, she also enjoyed talking to her aunt at her little country store. During the early morning hours, before the store opened they ate fried bacon and egg sandwiches and talked about silly and serious things. She loved sitting on the Coca-Cola crates in front of the same store and contemplating life with her aunt’s much older uncle, who had thinning red hair that sparkled in the sun and who also had the smell of alcohol coming out of his pores. She loved going to the country to visit her mom’s friends and chasing the chickens around the house, even though she never caught one. Her dream was to take home the mynah bird at a nearby pet store and keep one of her cousin’s bulldog puppies that she crawled under her grandmother’s house to see. She loved people and animals and was curious about everything. She wasn’t a bad little girl at all, but rather a good little girl who was forced to survive a very bad set of circumstances.
As an adult, I’m learning how to love this little girl like I was supposed to be loved. I’m learning to listen to what makes her scared and what makes her happy, what overwhelms her and what sets her free.
Recently, I completed a trauma recovery coaching class. I hoped when I started this class to one day be a coach, however as I got more into the class I discovered I was the one who needed the coaching the most. While I continued to hold onto the hope that I would one day be a coach and was able to complete all of the class requirements, I also remained uncertain in this as a career choice. IFS (Internal Family Systems) is teaching me also to honor the parts of myself that are expressing concerns about my choices. Where do I feel this concern in my body? What memories come to mind? I feel a heaviness in my head thinking about having a certain level of responsibility as a coach. I remember my father threatening to harm himself and begging him to stop. I was an adult at the time, but he wouldn’t listen. The sheriff came to take him away. We later learned he had a brain tumor. He would live only a few more months after this diagnosis. When I think of my adopted father’s life, I remember a man who never escaped being stuck in the past. He never stopped blaming others for what went wrong. As an adult, I had tried to reason with him, tried to have a better relationship with my parents and only became more exhausted.
I recognize as I write this that I always felt a responsibility for my parents emotional well-being. And this feeling carried over to other people in my life as well. Because doing everything I could to keep others from being upset with me gave me what felt like a little bit of control.
What could my life have been like if someone had taken responsibility for my well-being as a child? What if they had tried to keep me safe? What if they’d given me the freedom to be myself?
IFS gives me hope that it’s never too late to be myself.
… And after thousands of hours doing this work, I can say with certainty that the Self is in everybody. Furthermore, the Self cannot be damaged, the Self doesn’t have to develop, and the Self possesses its own wisdom about how to heal internal as well as external relationships. No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model Dr. Richard Schwartz
Sometimes we just need to give ourselves the space to process all of the feelings that we are having with curiosity and without judgment. To be the parents to ourselves that we never had. Writing this helped me to understand that I can no longer carry the heavy weight of being responsible for other’s emotional well-being. While I can contribute to others lives in positive or negative ways, I am unable to make choices for them.
And it’s ok if I choose not to make coaching a career. It’s ok if I decide to take care of myself first. Maybe a lifetime of feeling responsible for others is enough. Maybe it’s time to just be responsible for myself and love and accept others in the same way that I long to be loved and accepted.
Thanks so much for reading my post. I hope it contributes to your life in a positive way and encourages you to be true and loving towards yourself. While I am not a coach, I am here as a friend if you want to reach out with insights, encouragement or to share your story with me. ❤️