inner children, trauma, & being out of integrity
Years and years ago, before my mother died–even–I was forced to read a grief book as part of a class I took on Death and Dying. It was a workbook, and a lot of it made me roll my eyes. I really really really resisted. At the time, I was in this in-between part of my life where I’d survived the trauma of my childhood and had just started waking up to the depth of that trauma and the grief inside it.
At the time, I was engaged to this guy who I felt was my soulmate. I had never loved anyone like that, and I felt–for sure–no man had ever loved me like that. He wanted to hold some of my pain, and because of that, I let him–did a lot of hard work with him related to my father’s death. But I was still kind of this stoic creature who thought grief was being a baby…who hated crying more than anything…who apologized constantly for feeling. He helped me immensely, but I really needed to do a lot of this work on my own. Your “other half” shouldn’t be your therapist. Ever.
So I took this course and it sort of ended right before things got bad between him & me…before Mama’s illness broke me open…and honestly, had I not done these exercises, I would have been pretty lost and effed up.
One of the big exercises in the book was reflecting upon every single loss or thing that inspired grief. This could be anything that involved change–even good things. Any deaths, job losses, major moves, illnesses–you get the idea. And basically, you set up this timeline and then worked your way down the list–talking about each one. Exploring the feelings. Allowing yourself to feel them. Looking at how you acted or didn’t act. Forgiving yourself.
It actually really helped me. And after my mother died, I did it again. And it really helped me again.
Fast forward to years later, when I decided to do rolfing. Because of a random interview Oprah did on Super Soul Sunday with Alanis Morissette. Yea–that Alanis. She was talking a lot about her healing and the shit she’d gone through in life. And she mentioned the usual suspects, but then she said something about this thing called rolfing. Huh? I’d never heard about that. She said it was integral in her processing of grief and that it was made to be paired with therapy. I had just started a therapy practice and was doing Chinese medicine and acupuncture–so I was very woke to such things and open to trying anything. I found an amazing practitioner and committed to a 10 series. It was literally one of the best things I’ve ever done for my healing. Not only did it help me rid myself of physical bullshit, but it opened my heart up to joy and allowed me to release shit I didn’t need.
The way rolfing works is similar to that book. When you go in for your Intake, you fill out an exhaustive form detailing every single physical and emotional event that’s happened in your life–all these traumas that your body and mind has adapted to carry. That all add up to weigh you down or change you from the being you were when you were brand new. Your therapist then uses this information to put you back together. To move things around to where they should be–which opens up space that sometimes has been closed or contorted for years and years–producing more trauma just from the act of holding it.
In the end, you actually are taller. Your posture is better. You can breathe better and deeper. And there is suddenly space for other things–things that don’t hurt.
I really regret that I finished my series before my move out here because it would have helped me so much with the shit I was carrying.
A lot of my work with my therapist involves inner children. There are certain events–traumas–that inspire fragments of self that start running the show. Even if we don’t know it. Oftentimes, we as adults don’t realize we’re acting from these traumatized versions of ourselves. It sounds crazy, and it sounds like we’re talking multiple personalities…but it’s totally not. It’s just a way of understanding how trauma affected us and a way to heal those traumatized parts of ourselves. Even the healthiest people, by the way, have inner children. But we’re taught to not listen to them or else we’re crazy and possibly pulling a Patty Duke.
My therapist has been writing a blog with her husband as she’s off on this super cool off-the-grid adventure. And she talked about something that really spoke to me in her last post–one that also talked about inner children. She was talking about how she has chosen certain activities to support herself–self-care practices–but lately, she’s been wanting to watch tv instead. And for some reason, try as she might, she just couldn’t convince herself to do what she said she wanted to do–to do what keeps her healthy. And then her husband nudged her about it, and suddenly, her inner teen was riled–defensive and angry–and holy crap–she realized it was her little 12 year old self running that show. She talked a lot about how she handled it–how she literally had to make a deal with herself–had to honor the needs of that inner child and also be the functional adult. It was super interesting to me because we do that somewhat in my therapy sessions, but I’ve never done it in the moment of a trigger. And I never realized that these discussions could actually help me change my behavior. And this is pertinent to my life right now for lots of reasons.
I’m a pretty accomplished, self-made, intelligent woman. But there are things that I do routinely that make me feel out of integrity. I will break my back to follow-through for a stranger, but when it comes to promises I make to myself, they go straight out the window. Oftentimes, this will be something like cooking dinner on the days I said I would. I have these days set aside so I can cook healthy meals for myself–before the ingredients go bad–and not have to worry about certain conditions being met. But all too often, instead of cooking, I will find every reason in the world to order out. It might be–I really just want Mediterranean food tonight. Mexican doesn’t sound good. Or work wiped me out. Or my roommates didn’t leave the kitchen in ideal circumstances. Or it’s Friday and it’s my cheat day. Or I’m ill. The list is endless, and I can justify anything. So, I’ll order and regret it. The food is never as good as the food I would have made. It’s super expensive, and now, I might waste this food because maybe it’ll go bad by the time I motivate myself to do it. This usually happens most during weeks when my overall self-care is really really bad. And the whole dance creates mountains of anxiety for me. And shame. And guilt. And self-abuse. It’s just a shitty thing.
But I’ve felt powerless to change it. Literally–I have tried everything to make it easier. I’ve beat myself up. I’ve had others bug me about it. It doesn’t work.
And reading my therapist’s blog post, a big lightbulb turned on–“Oh my God, Alma. You’re not in charge of this. This isn’t you.” Some traumatized inner child is running this show and, until I figure out who she is, what her pain is, and what this behavior soothes–I will never change it. Not long-term. Holy crap. The reason it’s not going away is because it’s the only thing soothing that need. And I have to replace that with something that honors both of us. I have to take the time to know her, respect her, and help her. The reason my approach up until now has failed so miserably? I was just adding trauma onto the trauma that started it by shaming myself for not following through. My rolfing practice taught me that–even if you are choosing good things and trying to heal yourself–if you are forcing something to the point that it’s not a natural choice or causes pain–you are creating layers of new trauma. To heal it, you have to listen to your body and speak up when there’s pain. Because that new pain creates a new memory and a new thing to heal.
I always used to roll my eyes when people would tell me to be gentle with myself after major therapy sessions or after a rolfing session. With rolfing, you would wait 2-4 weeks before doing more work because your body needed to shift to this new reality. It’s not something you just suck up and get through. I’m finally learning that this is also the case with my inner children and the trauma I went through–and that I have PTSD because of that suck it up mindset.
Just being aware of these inner children and the fact that there are unhealed wounds related to them really really has made a difference for me. I’m going to spend some time really looking at where this trauma that is always in my life comes from and what I can do to help her heart heal. So I can heal.
The thing that struck me most about my therapist’s post was how following through allowed all the parts of herself to grow with her on the journey she chose for herself–instead of creating more layers of bullshit to wade through. Our inner children need and want us to be the people we say we are…to follow through…and be people they can count on. For me, I never had that safety net–so it’s kind of cool that I can give that to myself finally.