“How to heal the inner child” is a topic I’ve been coming across a lot lately. I mentioned The Holistic Psychologist’s Inner Child Meditation a few posts back and how hard it was for me to visualize being back at June, Lib, and Brophy’s (maternal grandmother and great-grandparents) house, adult me holding the hand of the child version of me, and telling her she is loved, wanted, and safe.
I read something else recently that said something along the lines of, “When something happens to you and you react to it, how old do you feel in that moment?” I’ve also read that often we stop emotionally/mentally growing at the age where we first experienced trauma or when we were abruptly expected to become an adult.
Yesterday, I searched all of my files and even read old LiveJournal entries, desperately trying to find a poem I wrote as a teenager, then rewrote for a poetry writing class in college called “The 14-Year-Old Mom to My 39-Year-Old Mother.” (It might not have been called exactly that, but it’s what my memory says it was entitled.)
In this poem, I wrote about how, at 14, I was suddenly expected to stop being a teenager and start being a mother because my mother couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t just suddenly feel responsible for my brothers, especially Ben and Caleb who were respectively 7 and 5 at the time, but also for my mother. She and I would get into these horrendous, often physical, fights and she would tear me to shreds and burn me to the ground, and then an hour or so later, she’d crawl into bed with me, hold me, and cry, saying she was a horrible mother over and over again. She didn’t have anyone to talk to. She didn’t have anyone to lean on. She had no friends she could confide in. My dad was no longer there for her to blame for everything.
So I was suddenly supposed to be every one of those things for her. At 14 years old.
John and I were up late talking Monday night, and I asked him what he was like in high school. Did he have hobbies? Did he read comic books? What did he dress like? What did he do for fun?
He said he couldn’t really remember but said he figured he’s not that much different now than at 15 or 16, that most people’s identities are forged in their teen years and they don’t really change.
I feel like, as much as I joke around, I am so serious deep down as a person because I felt forced to be serious as a teenager. I still feel like such a child. I joked to John that I’m always looking for the “adultier adult.”
I felt so hopelessly imprisoned growing up.
My teen years were spent under a crushing weight of condemnation, abandonment, judgment, shaming, belittlement, violence, dysfunction, and abuse. I was never good enough. Always too fat. Not pretty enough. A disappointment. Afraid to make mistakes. Always so fucking angry, as I absorbed all of the emotions around me, not knowing that labels like “empath” or “highly sensitive person” existed, or that both labels described me. I was basically a sponge at the bottom of a toxic waste runoff pond. And I too often spewed out what was poured into me.
I felt so unloved and unlovable. Like a burden. Too emotional. Too much. I was so wounded and sought comfort in things and people who couldn’t really give me the attention, affirmation, and affection that I needed, no matter how much they loved me because they were so wounded and seeking the same.
When I think about my life as a teenager, it was always with thoughts of how to escape. I read everything I could get my hands on, about like I do now. Lost myself in fiction, music, and movies. I had some fun, typical American teenage girl times too, obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, going to concerts and high school football games when my dad finally let me my senior year of high school. All I thought about was how much I wanted to leave, but I also felt so compelled to stay because of Ben and Caleb.
I did not know what to do with my freedom when I got to Mobile and I was three hours away from home. My freedom didn’t feel free because I was so worried about everyone at home and felt guilty that I wasn’t there, especially for Ben and Caleb.
I also did not know what to do without the constant, daily trauma going on around me. I did not how to loosen up. I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I didn’t know what to do with the quiet.
When John and I talked about all of that, I told him how the only reason I would go back to my teen years is if it meant I got to do what other teenagers did – have boyfriends, go to prom and other dances, make out in the backseat, hang out with friends at the mall, just be carefree. Adam and, even more so, Ben got to do that. Ben is the sibling most like me, in both looks and personality, but I see so much of who I feel like I will never be in all that I’ve watched him do, both horribly stupid and incredibly amazing. Maybe having me to do all of the worrying for him growing up gave him the freedom not to worry so much and just live his life.
The stories I’ve told myself since age 14 are stories where I’m a victim and a martyr, all laced in fear and pleas for someone to finally tell me I am enough just as I am. I’ve regaled myself with tales of who I will be once I’m thin, get married, get out of debt, move to some new town, feeling so much hope and excitement for that perfect person I will be if I just put my head down and keep pushing myself, and I’ve beaten myself up when none of those things make me happy or my life what I want it to be. Someday I will be loved, worth loving has turned into that mirage of an oasis in the desert in this quest. The finish line that keeps getting moved further away.
I don’t feel capable of the hard conversations, the really vulnerable and deep talks that lay me wide open for all kinds of destruction and pain.
I still feel very ashamed about sex, my sexuality, and my body as a sexual being. When things get awkward and uncomfortable, I either shut down or make jokes or get angry and accusing. My brain has me convinced that everyone my age has got sex figured out while I’m the one still fumbling in the dark and awkward as fuck because they got started long before I did. There are so many times where I wish I’d had sex way sooner and with more people but I didn’t because of growing up in a purity culture and being shamed for being sexually curious from an early age.
Now in my mid-30s, I’m floundering, not knowing what to do next, job-wise while almost everyone else I know is settled into a steady career like I was in my mid-20s. I’m currently procrastinating in trying to find another job because I’m so afraid of winding up in another toxic and boring office job because I don’t trust myself not to settle for whoever wants to hire me.
Last week, when I saw someone mentioning healing the “inner teenager” instead of just the inner child, I thought, This is where I’m at, this is how old I feel emotionally and mentally, this is how old my feelings of maturity and responsibility are.
This is the age range in me that needs healing, grace, and accountability. This is where I need to tell myself it is okay to be exactly who and where I am. Where I remind myself there is no real timeline in life, birth and death are the only real certainties, and no one of any age has it all figured out, that “it all” looks completely different for everyone. Where I start asking myself those questions like, “What would you do if you could do anything?” and I answer from me and not from my expectations of the perceptions of those around me. This is the version of me that needs to be told, “You are safe, you are loved, you are wanted, you are not too much.”
I knew 10 years ago that there was more to my life than spending it in Alabama, caught up in my family’s drama and trauma, taking care of everyone else but myself, and I made the decision to move to Georgia, still the best decision I’ve made thus far. And while I’ve distanced myself from it all physically, I am still distancing myself from it emotionally. Learning that I what I experienced was actually trauma. That I do have some PTSD from being in family dysfunction I couldn’t escape from, with people who couldn’t address the reality of that dysfunction and trauma and just accepted it as normal. Understanding that I am an adult, I’m not 14, and I am allowed to be myself, exactly however that means. That my feelings and voice matter. That I have the power and privilege and responsibility of my present and future, and even more so, I don’t have to figure out my entire life right now, and, goddamnit, I am allowed to make some fucking mistakes.
I know these things, but I still feel caught up in all of those old fears of judgment, condemnation, shame, abandonment, and rejection. There is shit I no longer have to put up with, but I still hold onto it anyway.
I’m allowed to have boundaries now, and I am learning what they are, how to establish them, and how to maintain them. I no longer have to stay in any situations or dysfunction that hurt me. I am always, from here on out, free to let go, walk away, and move on to better, healthier habits, mindsets, situations, and relationships.
All of this actually really just hit me while writing this post.
I want 14-year-old Amy to know I love her, I’m proud of her, and I am the strong, empathetic, kind, hilarious, thoughtful, and self-aware person I am now because of her. That she doesn’t have to worry about what will happen to everyone around her if she’s not there to pick up the pieces constantly. That everything has turned out pretty well. She can relax and play.
And I think she’d tell me, You don’t have to be sad or angry for me anymore. You don’t have to feel bad for me. You don’t need to be my mother or anyone else’s anymore either. You can let go and have a life of your own.
And by the way, 36-year-old me, YOU can now relax and play.