`Lots of difficult things happened in my life between ages 13 and 16. Those are hard ages for anyone, I know, a time when you wonder who you are and where you fit in. I had a lot of upheavals then, a parental divorce, my mom got remarried to a man who didn’t like children and teens, we moved across country (might as well have been a move to a new country), then two years later we moved again, I was molested multiple times by multiple family “friends”… well, if you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve heard it all before. Whatever. Not the best years of my life.
These days I’m working with that teen self, in and out of therapy. As I wrote about earlier, I’m blocking time for the teen each evening, writing to her and letting her write back to me about her feelings and her needs. I really pay attention to her. I don’t dismiss her opinions. I ask her questions. I model the attached, caring mother she needed at the time. Of course it’s all imaginary, but at the same time, it taps into something that feels deep and real.
Meanwhile, I’ve been texting daily with E. for the past three weeks or so. Many days it’s very simple.
You are still there?
That’s so comforting.
Other days it is a bit longer, what I’m thinking about or writing about with the girl. But not too long. I want to be careful. It’s easy to misinterpret tone by text, and I don’t want us to end up making things more complicated between us. Deeper processing needs to wait until I’m back in her office. It’s a long wait though, from Monday, to Monday, and the texts tell me in between that she will still be there for me. And she’s okay with that. Here’s today’s exchange.
Knock, knock, are you there still?
Feel free to keep checking.
It’s such a strange childish thing, but it’s very reassuring, very settling.
Yes, your childish self didn’t get much reassurance. I’ll keep dishing it out! She deserves to know she is loved and cared about.
For the time being at least, while my highest self/wise woman/whatever you like to call her is getting stronger, E. is willing to help play that role as well, so my younger selves feel cared for. (Sometimes I think I have E. to support a 3-year-old self while I work with the teen, but that’s another story.)
Then there’s one more piece. Years ago, I took part in a women’s group that E. ran, and one of the things we did was go through the book Growing Up Again. It has chapters on what we all need at different developmental stages. If we didn’t get some of those needs met, it has strategies for attending to those needs now. I found it interesting at the time, but I wasn’t ready then to take it as deeply as I’m doing now. There are also small ovals, printed with the different messages children need as they grow up. The different colors signify different developmental stages.
E. loaned me a set of the ovals and suggested I go through them all and identify messages I feel I didn’t get or that I need reinforced. I did this, and there were a lot of them. Maybe my mom did try to give me some of these, but the life experiences were too damaging to allow them to stick. Or maybe she wasn’t able to give them, or needed them herself. Who knows the reason. The point is, they are message I feel I could use now.
Since there were so many, I decided to start with the red ones. These have to do with being, about the right to exist and be cared for and feel you matter. I have them out on my dresser and read them over several times a day. In my mind, I am telling them to the teen. They echo the messages that E. sends to me by text. They address some of the complaints the teen makes when she writes to me. I guess in that way, everything I am working on converges.
What you need is important to me.
You belong here.
I’m glad you are alive.
I love you, and I care for you willingly.
I’m glad you are you.
You can feel all of your feelings.
You can grow at your own pace.
Who could have predicted that my healing would take this form? I wonder where else it will take me. Tomorrow I have my first session with someone who integrates a lot of bodywork and mindfulness with therapy. I am curious to see if this will also fold into everything else I’m doing now to take care of that lost 14-year-old.