Stored trauma is Lyme disease’s best friend. They play off of each other like school yard bullies relentlessly tormenting the mind, body, and spirit. Lyme is an opportunistic disease and tends to jump on those whose systems are already compromised. Personally, I had a weakened immune system from years of infections and antibiotics, I had been breathing in mold and smoke all of my life, I had those heavy -metal- filled amalgams in my mouth, and I had—maybe most importantly—a shitload of stored trauma. Healing the past has been a vital part of my recovery; I went into the basement and the attic and met the old memories, had a new experience with them, and then went to the freakin’ Materials Recovery Facility where they got recycled into something new and sparkly. But how to do that? Getting sick stripped me of all of my effective coping mechanisms. I had nothing— no distractions, no booze, cigarettes, cake, no over exercising, and no late-night coquetry (well, Ian got some of that). I had only myself—a self that was ignored for most of my life, a self that I was scared of, a self that I often absued. Caring for myself and healing all of the built up heartache meant getting in touch with my inner-child (yup. deep breath. I am talking inner-child work. It might get weird. But if you’re here to save your life then maybe it’s time to try weird shit?)—that little girl inside who had been shouting out for attention for two decades. The little girl who I just kept hushing, “you want to rest? Well, too bad, I want to party.” We were going to have to team up to fight this thing. I was going to have to pay attention to all of her needs. My parents weren’t showing up for me and I was either going to cry over that every single day or take the power back into my hands and “re-parent” myself. My boyfriend and my friends made an incredible support system, but there were too many times where I was left alone and panicked. It’s frightening to go into the darkness alone—naturally, we want someone to hold our hand through the haunted house tour. And that’s ok. Hold a hand. God knows, I hold so many hands. But, acquiring the art of being my own primary care-taker while everyone else acted as support instead of the other way around enhanced my life, my freedom, and my health. I needed to find a way to rely on myself, to hold myself through the hard times, have my own back, and thoroughly heal from all of that old nasty trauma.
I was an adult before I ever got to be a kid, and I was pissed off about it. Full of resistance, I sought people out who would care for me the way my parents never did. Collecting father figures and mother figures was my favorite hobby—I had a whole china closet full of them and, yet, no real fulfillment. My collection brought me short-lived comfort; my internal-void remained. I was introduced to inner-child work in 2013 when I was detoxing from a wildly fucked up romance. In an effort to snag what little dignity I had left and not text or call this dude, my friend suggested I start telling myself everything that I wanted him to tell me. When the quick-fix cravings hit, she would say, ” put your hand on your heart and say, ‘I love you. I’ve got you.’Imagine a photo of you as a little girl that is just so cute and precious and start taking care of that girl.” I was down. Anything to get my life back. I found myself picturing my little self and organically saying, “I’m your guardian now and I’m going to take really good care of you.” That became my mantra. I said it all day ,everyday, so that I could make positive choices for myself: like going on a hike instead of calling someone who would inevitably hurt me. I practiced just enough self-love to keep me from getting involved in another demoralizing situation, and (for the skeptics) I’m here to tell you that my practice paid off—I have been blessed with a beautiful relationship. However, when I got bit by a tick just six months later, my inner-child got tossed away and quieted again. She suddenly needed way too fucking much from me (sick people are needy as fuck), and I had no idea how to give it to her.
I spent a long time beating myself up for being sick—maybe a year. It felt like my fault, like I was weak, powerless, or had bad Karma. There were moments where I was so angry at myself for not being able to “pull it together” that I considered physically harming myself. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself in the mirror. Every single day was agony. I couldn’t tell what was worse —the physical symptoms or the way I emotionally tormented myself. My internal dialogue went on repeat, “Get better. Be better. What is wrong with you? You’re disgusting. You’re weak.” Oh hi mom and dad! That voice started keeping me awake at night. I lied in bed seething in pain and with a monster in my head, “you’re faking it. You’re not even really sick. This is just a ploy to get people to pay attention to you. Stop being so afraid. You’re not dying. You are being SUCH A BABY.” I only got sicker. Shockingly, that cruel self-talk wasn’t doing the trick. I was not “pulling myself up by my boot straps” at all. In fact, I was getting to a point where I could hardly put on my own shoes. As my symptoms ramped up and not a single doctor had a complete answer, I got willing to do whatever it was going to take—to do whatever was in my power— to get well.
I said farewell to the audiobook “A People’s History of the United States” which took up most of my cell phone space with its 35 hours of “entertainment” and purchased—instead—self-help books like, “Self–Compassion,” by Kristin Neff and “You Can Heal your Life,” by Louise Hay. I listened to those calming voices preaching self-tenderness in the car, in bed, and while I made myself food. I was in research mode, a good student of self-love, entirely teachable. It was one thing to care of myself enough so that I wouldn’t reach out to a toxic dude, but how do I take care of and love a sick person? Like a really sick person? I went practical—the basics— I started with the 101 course, if you will. I used to work in childcare—I have looked after hundreds of children of all ages. I used my behavior as a caregiver as my blueprint for my own self-care. I would never let a child go hungry or thirsty or without sunscreen. I wouldn’t let a kid fall asleep without brushing their teeth and listening to a calming story in their comfiest PJ’s. If a child woke up afraid, I would comfort them.If they were too hot, I would take layers off and give them some water; too cold, I would give them layers and hold them tight. It seems so simple, but I certainly wasn’t that careful with myself on a daily basis. There’s no “age plateau” where we stop needing those simple things; we just get better at tolerating the discomfort. I had to learn that it didn’t make me “high-maintenance” to need the basic human comforts. I didn’t let myself go hungry, thirsty, without a nap, or without my vegetables. That was a tremendous beginning for me, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
My insomnia was a son- of- a- bitch. When hard-drugs weren’t working, I needed to find a way to soothe myself enough into a sleep. That’s how I started a dialogue with “little me.” I would put one hand on my heart and one on my belly and picture little Jackie. My imagination— which sometimes works like the Beauty and the Beast mirror— showed me a toddler. She sat alone on a metal folding chair in the middle of a dark room. Her shoe laces were untied and she wore grungy sweats. She was so lonely, afraid, and dying for someone to come save her. And, in my head (because, hello, Ian sleeps next to me and I was still trying to seem *somewhat* normal) I would tell her things like, “you’re OK, I’ve got you. I know this is so so scary. And I know you feel so bad. Yes, I feel that crazy pain all through our body. It’s real. I’ve got you. I will take the best care of you that I can. You’re not making this up. I love you.” It was usually the only thing that would calm me down. And, eventually, I started imagining myself hugging her, and ASKING, “what do you need little Jackie?” And then I’d listen. This is truly one of the fucking winning practices in healing. My inner-child is smart as fuck. Every single time I ask “what’s up?” she’s like, “this is what’s up! Please fix it!” Sometimes, she wants things like Advil or a cool cloth and other times, she wants a hug, but A LOT of the time, she really wants to have FUN and be free. It’s my job to give that to her. When a child is sick, parents do the bulk of the work to get them well, right? A Doctor only steps in for prescriptions and a diagnosis. So, it only makes sense, that we need to constantly care for ourselves the same way.
I was getting noticeably better. I had this direct line of communication to my inner- child.We were having ping-pong conversations before I knew it, and I started knowing exactly how to care for myself at all times. I no longer saw little me in that lonely metal folding chair. She grew up a little bit, wearing bright colors and a high ponytail. She was healing and needed to play and be free more and more. The more I did this, the healthier I got, and the less I needed from others— including my parents. Being able to meet my own needs time and time again left me feeling, ultimately, free.
Now I’m in the home-stretch and I’ve got this one problem: there’s a wildly hurt teenager in me that i really do not want to commune with. So much damage was done in those years, they were the most dangerous years of my life—because my parents were more unreliable and more destructive than ever, but, on top of their ruination, I was harming myself. I turned all of my anger inwards and started self-medicating to make the pain stop. I remember once around 16 when I was so stoned I hadn’t stopped laughing for three hours… or maybe 30 seconds? There was no such thing as time. I said to my best friend, “You know, if I ever met myself, I would absolutely hate her. We would never get along.” We both laughed so hard, knowing it was true. I hated myself. I shudder thinking about those years, between the way I behaved in public and the lunatic man who merely resembled my dad that lurked around corners in my “home.” So, can’t I just put that all to rest? Tie it up in a neat little box, pack it away in the attic, and just forget about it? Apparently not.
I sat at my shrink’s office confessing how deeply I’m aching for Ian, (who’s Ian? Keep up!) the man I love who I don’t get to join on his big adventure for another 4 weeks. “I don’t know. We are both in so much pain. And it’s sweet, but it also feels just…excruciating,” I said. She suggested, like a good pain in the ass shrink, that it wasn’t just “love” and just “missing” each other, but that it may be something deeper. Something probably relating to my family of origin. ugh I had to open my big mouth about Ian. Here we go again. “Really? I think that’s maybe a psycho-babble stretch. I mean, how many times am I really going to miss my dad?” I retorted. “Exactly,” she said, “I think you miss your dad. That’s not to say that you don’t miss Ian and love Ian and that you guys aren’t yearning for each other. It’s the excruciating pain you’re experiencing that I think might have something to do with your dad.” With the same immediate shock value of a popped balloon, I broke and started to cry. Oh, fuck.
I kept that idea safely on the periphery for the next few days, not letting it quite into or out of my sight. I got on Skype to do a distance-healing with the dazzling, vital, sweet and madly intuitive Emily, and as I detailed the week, I mentioned the possibility, “My therapist thinks that Ian’s departure has opened up my “dad” wounds and that all of the hollow emptiness I feel in my heart is actually from my father. I mean, whatever, it’s almost too obvious. So obvious I don’t really buy it.” But Emily, bless her, was intrigued. I had to open my big mouth again. Thankfully, her instict had been precise on earlier occasions so I trust her. In our work together that day, she had me travel back to my past, finding the moment that left me with that hollow emptiness. In my meditation, I found this one tragic scene from when I was 17—the day I watched everything I knew about my nuclear family collapse in on itself. Emily had me watch the scene play out and then freeze everyone and everything except my younger self and my present self. Everyone was frozen —my father froze mid-stomp on his way to attack me, my mother froze with her head in her hands crying in the car, and our dog froze in a frantic bark. Emily said, “approach your past self and tell her all of the things that she needs to hear right in this moment.” I slowly approached her, feeling very skeptical. I judge her, and I don’t know how to comfort my teenage self. She’s so stabby. So I started with the basics again. I took her by the hands and brought her to the curb to sit down, I got her some water, and I took her bubble-gum pink leopard coat off. It was a warm day in October and she was covered in sweat from running, screaming, crying, and being dressed in 1,000 awesomely torn up layers. I fanned her off, helped her breathe and got her some food. I parented her. All things that I needed that day, that year, my whole life. Finally, I was able to say some kind things, “I love you. it’s ok. you’re ok. You’re beautiful, and you’re doing the best you can. Don’t worry about your dad. I promise you are loved.” My 17-year-old self was feeling calmer and calmer, and as I walked her back to the car, to finish out this scene, I said, “I really love you, and I promise dad is just high. This isn’t about you.” My past self turned to me with a smirk, totally cool and calm, and said, “thank you, you know, I don’t even like him that much. I think this day is actually the beginning of my freedom.”
I realized, as I came out of this time traveling experience that once I gave myself all the love I needed in that moment, I didn’t need my dad anymore and the experience completely transformed—from one of traumatizing heartbreak, to one of total freedom and joy. I also—wait for it—didn’t feel empty without Ian. With the willingness to heal this part of my life, I’ve had more and more memories surface over the last few days leaving me feelng irrationally unsafe in this world. That’s the risk of doing this work—all the stuff really does fucking surface. But UP AND OUT, BABY, my body has limited storage space and I need room for joy! I know now to go into the darkness, to let it surface, and heal it instead of ignoring it and powering through. Because no matter how much I try to fight it with my mind, there are things that my body will not let me forget.
Two nights ago, I laid awake panicking. Why, I wondered, while tears soaked my pillow, why am I especially panicked in my own home, in my own bed? Why, in my unscathed, sweet home today, do I feel terrified, like someone is lurking around every corner. I thought I’d ask that teenage version of myself what was up since that has worked so well in the past. Again, I was willing to do what it took to fall asleep. I did the ol’ trick: one hand on my heart, one on my belly, and I asked, “what is going on? Why is it at home that you’re so afraid?” In my imagination, we were sitting on the same curb outside of my teenage “home” that I comforted her on in my last meditation. She said, “Well, it’s not outside that’s scary. It’s in there,” she nodded to the front door, “that’s where I fear for my life.” Ding ding ding. My home was always the scariest place to be. There was no resting in my house, resting left you vulnerable to god knows what. By high school, I was realistically safer outside of my home. So, of course I feel like enemies are at every window or just outside of my door. Of course. But I am safe now. In this present moment, I have given myself a very safe life. And, so, with the knowledge of why I’m freaking out, I can start comforting myself, “you’re safe. you’re loved. It’s over. It’s OK.” All of that healing in the middle of the night when no one else was around to comfort me? It’s proof that I have everything I need within.
People ask me all of the time if Ian has been my primary caregiver. And, I usually say something like, “it has taken a village to get me well, but, in the end, I have been my own primary caregiver.” I am not a victim today. I can choose how to take care of myself, who takes care of me, and furthermore/even more radically I can give my past self all that she’s been looking. ALL of my past selves. Even the needy, over sexualized, annoying and sweetly confused teenager. I’m calling off the search party! Now, I can get get busy collecting memories instead of mother and father figures.
With fun, and love,