For years I was unable to process a couple of traumatic events that occurred during my childhood - one of which particularly haunted me. I either couldn’t think about it at all - wouldn’t allow myself - or I would become extremely, somewhat uncontrollably, upset.
Of course, as a child, I felt that what happened to me was entirely my fault. (In fact, I was actually told that at the time by the adult who hurt me.) And from that moment on, I basically blamed myself for everything. I was the sole cause of - in my mind - every misery the people I knew (and at times even the world) suffered from. So many times I could feel people’s suffering weighing me down - as though I had to try to hold everyone’s problems on my own shoulders.
It’s no real surprise, then, that I would become depressed, over and over.
On top of this, I felt I had to prove my worth. So I pushed myself as hard as I could. I tried to be an “overachiever”. I would become obsessed with many different activities, one at a time, until I was “adequate”, then move on. But I was also a perfectionist. If I didn’t get 100% in exams, tests; if I didn’t know an answer to a question my teacher would ask, I would feel terrible - almost to the point of tears. I was letting myself - and my parents - down.
Eventually I gave myself an eating disorder. On top of the depression I was continuing to experience, one Christmas I decided to turn my life around. I became interested in meditation and I spoke to a counsellor named Dee Bowker (see that article for more details).
Upon gentle prompting, and through a plethora of tears, I just about managed to tell Dee the traumatic events that happened to me as a child. Along with other creative exercises, she asked me to think about what an adult would have said to me at the time: what I - as an adult now - would have told my younger self. I felt this was all too hard to think about. I couldn’t do it in the session, nor for the next few days. But I was going to a meditative silent retreat at Gaia House that weekend (a meditation centre in Devon).
During the weekend, I was sat in the beautiful meditation hall along with about forty people. The meditations were occasionally led, but mostly not. At some point, in the silence, I remember feeling the weight of the problems of everyone in the room. We were all there for a reason, I thought, and I could feel their sadness. I then began to think about what Dee had asked of me. So I’m sitting, I’m breathing, and I’m visualising the traumatic event. When it becomes too much for me, I come out of the visualisation - back to the breath - and become grounded. It was like hitting the pause button - I didn’t become inescapably lost in the thoughts and emotions surrounding the event. I could breathe.
I visualised myself - as an adult - standing, watching the event of my childhood unfold in front of me. Once it finished, I went over and picked up the child - my younger self. I comforted her. I brushed her hair with my hand. I wiped away her tears. I told her what just happened wasn’t her fault. That I loved her.
Tears were streaming down my face. I tried to sob silently so as not to distract anyone else from their meditation. But the effect of the visualisation was powerful. It allowed me to think about the event for the first time, with the safety of a pause button.
After the retreat, I found I was able to think about the childhood event more without becoming as upset about it. I even decided to write about what happened to me in the form of a novel. I found the more I was able to think about - and process - the event without becoming caught up in it, the more I was able to accept and let go of it. And for the first time, I began to realise that it really wasn’t my fault, that I wasn’t such a hateful child (and, by extension, adult) after all. In fact, eventually after a lot of hard work I was able to grow to love and accept all that I am (and, indeed, all that I am not).