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Something to Say
My inner child needs to be heard
Aquellah Mahdi

The idea that I had an “inner child” came from my therapist at Renfrew, a treatment center where I went to get help for my eating disorder and the years of abuse I’d suffered as a child. My therapist mentioned quite a few times that my “inner child” needed comfort and protection. I really didn’t understand what she meant by that.

She said my inner child was the little voice that goes, “tell them what’s bothering you.” She said that I try to stuff her down in the bottom of my life and never allow her to speak, and that I needed to let her speak and listen to what she had to say.

So I started with letters. The letters were from my inner child at different ages. My 7-year-old self wrote her own story about the things that she remembered at that age, and I couldn’t believe it. The assignment was helpful because at each age my inner child taught me something different about how I survived. This helped me remember that as a young child I had the willpower and courage to get through all the abuse.

A Place to Hold My Problems

Then one day in art therapy I was told to make a containment box and put whatever I wanted inside of it, anything that has caused me any kind of pain, or just whatever was on my mind. While I was looking through a box of different fabrics I came across a cloth doll. I think I chose the doll because she seemed to be in the wrong place. She was different, just like me. She came to represent my inner child.

I placed her in my box. I wrapped her in red cloth and string and said, “This is her casket.” I figured I put her into the containment box to hold her in a place where no one could get in. So no one could ask her questions and find out what made her feel that she was unsafe, uncharted or desolate. Outside of the containment box I drew colors intertwined to keep whatever was inside the box trapped in there so it would never be able to come out. I needed to put all of my problems into the box.

Hidden Words

When I picked her up from the box her blank face and delicate body reminded me of how delicate and lost I feel. How I want to just hide. So on my doll’s cloth body I drew a compass. For each direction there was a different word.

Her stomach was commingled with the guilt, shame and pain of the inner secrets. On her face there were no words, just a blank area. No eyes, mouth or nose. On her right arm there was the word pain, on her left there was the word confused. On her legs were the words lost and shame.

image by Terrence Taylor

When it was time to take her out of the box I did so but I left the cloak draped around her arms to keep the scars covered, so I didn’t have to talk to anyone about what each word represented. That was something my inner child and I decided would remain hidden. But it would be written on her body, so that one day we would each tell our own story. The story of how the abuse had affected us, and our own recovery process.

Then a day came when I couldn’t take it anymore. She was suffocating me. She had something to say and I had promised I would allow her to speak her mind when she felt ready.

Letting Her Speak

That day in a private session of art therapy I actually let her out of the box and took off her cloth, to expose the naked words I had written on her body. I held her in my hands to face her. I was in some kind of trance. It was time for her to let go of the demons and time for me to listen, to understand what the child inside of me felt like. She felt trapped, stuck in a world of broken innocence and confusion.

I needed to assure her that everything was now safe. I felt like I wasn’t ready. The art therapist asked about the first word, what it meant. I opened my mouth to speak, but all I was doing was mouthing what my inner child wanted to say.

I wanted to keep her silenced. I felt like she was actually going through the things she wanted to say. Her body was back in the bitter cold night of her father’s ruling; she couldn’t escape. I had to help her break her body away from that past trauma.

I watched the clock. Then the words came. Not as easily as I’d thought. But they started to slowly flow, like a river that is partially paused by a huge tree limb. I sat and listened to her speak. My inner child was talking, and what a lovely but frightening sound it was.

A First Step

I don’t want to repeat what she said, but afterwards I had the feeling of inner peace. I still felt a bit unsure about what I had just heard—her side of the story, the vivid memories in my mind. I thought, “How could she remember all of the terror?” But I knew that it was a step in the right direction.

image by Terrence Taylor

This was the first time I had ever listened to my inner self. It was the only time I didn’t try to stuff her under a pillow and say, “be quiet,” or, “your feelings will go away.” It was all her time. She cried, but they were tears of relief and patience. She’d been waiting for me to allow someone to come in, fondly greet us both and give us a place where it could all start to come out.

Not long after that I left Renfrew. I was told my insurance wouldn’t pay for me to stay there any longer.

Leaving Her Behind?

My inner child doll lay on my bed on top of the things I would soon be placing in my suitcase. I picked her up and looked at her. “I don’t need you anymore,” I said. “I’m fine. Anyway, no one will have the time to sit and let either of us continue what we had to say.” I believed that many people would think that after my stay at Renfrew my mind and soul should be healed. That I should be OK. But Renfrew was only the beginning of my internal treatment.

“She has already been protected and comforted,” I thought. “I have listened.” I was angry at my inner child. I was angry that I had worked a lot and I had no place where I could go to keep on working. I walked out the door and she stayed. She was placed neatly in the red cloak, tied with string, on top of a pile of garbage.

As I walked away from her I felt like she was yelling to get my attention, for me to turn around. I knew I wouldn’t get far without her. I believed that when I threw her away that day the process of either one of us continuing to recover was also thrown away.

Time To Listen

For now, I have stuffed her back into that world. I keep her hushed with no plan to let her surface. But remembering when I let her come to the light that day, I wonder if I might ever do it again.

As I get closer to my adult years she needs to come out and speak much more often, just so that she is reminded of who she is and what she means to me. She is someone who was—and in a way still is—trapped in a past world of turmoil. But she holds the key to what can help me grow into a complete woman. If I do want to go forward, I have to go backwards. That step back means giving her the time to speak. Time for me to listen, and let her heal.

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