I distinctly remember the first time I met my inner child. It was the fall of 2019, and I had just started grappling with the realization that the things I went through with my parents did and do, in fact, affect me deeply. Perhaps this is obvious and easy to you, perhaps not, but I was in deep denial at the time and had been for decades.
The only way I had survived my childhood was through the belief that it was time-limited; that what I experienced at the hands of my parents wouldn’t affect me after I left home at 18. And although I certainly had a difficult time with both of my parents, breaking down the internal disillusionment I had about my mother and our relationship was what started to bring about real, meaningful change for me. I hadn’t realized how much I had bought into her narratives about herself, and about me, and about our family. Even though it was excruciating to see where I didn’t perfectly protect myself from these messages, looking back I know I did the best job that I could possibly have done in a series of impossible situations.
As I started to remember her flying into rages at me, putting me down, telling me that no one wanted to be my friend, that I wasn’t good at art or music or sports, it brought me right back to that time and place. I ceased being my confident, capable, adult self – someone who was fiercely independent and had insatiably lived and loved and learned and traveled – and became yet again a scared young child with my mother’s voice relentlessly reverberating through my head.
I was once again sitting at my spot at the kitchen table, my mom in hers, my head bowed in shame as she would take endless anger out on me. Whenever she was done with her outbursts, she would insist that how I should act after such an altercation is to stick around and comfort her since her outrage was, in fact, my fault to begin with.
During one of the therapy sessions where I started to discuss this regular occurrence, I remember my therapist asking me how I felt about kitchen tables. I hadn’t thought about it that much but replied that I had never owned a kitchen table as an adult and went on to cobble together a few rationalizations.
You see, I move a lot, and it’s a pretty big piece of furniture to haul around to different states, and I’m fine eating on the couch anyways. But if I’m being honest I was uncomfortable eating at them even at a friend’s house, or while I lived with a partner who had one but had never made that connection myself. It would be the first in a long line of triggers that were and still are some of the most difficult for me. Things that other people see as innocuous or even positive but for me are inextricably intertwined with unbearable pain, shame, and fear.
One night as I was drawing about some of these formative experiences I felt fully present with little Cassie, subject to so much violence and rage and unfairness. My heart broke for this younger version of me as I started to piece together a better understanding of what I had been through. Later that week, I had a…vision? I’m not sure exactly what to call it. It wasn’t quite a dream; I was awake and fully conscious. In my mind, I was transported aboard a ship on choppy, icy seas at night, guided only by the light of the moon and countless stars above.
The vessel was sailing to an unknown but far off destination, and during this expedition came across something unexpected. A lone figure, small and shivering, pale and frightened amongst endless cold and darkness. Navigating alongside this lost soul – she couldn’t have been more than 7 years old – I found myself bracing on the outer rails of the ship and extending my hand as a guide to safety. Hers gripped mine, and my strength combined with her fighting efforts landed her on the permanence of the boat. She coughed, cold seawater spilling onto the deck, and took the deep, desperate inhales of those fighting for their lives for far too long. We looked at each other, both in shock, not entirely sure what to make of the other.
I continued to have other, similar experiences of my inner child and myself after I realized what the first one meant. We would go on countless adventures, far too many to name or do justice here. It was and is very much an ongoing process. As we both navigate the pain and difficulty and power surrounding our experiences, I give her support and understanding and experience, and she gives me access to memories and a kind of ferocity and drives that I often lose touch of.
Seeing myself as I am through her eyes; as an adult with all of the things I have been through and accomplished has also been an unexpected but indescribable blessing.
My second vision of us was similarly powerful as the first and very much stood out to me. It was shortly after I had first rescued my childhood self from those many years of loneliness and isolation. This realization that that is who I had pulled out of the icy seas, coupled with a glimpse of what we might be headed for blended together to create a new vision. She was standing alone outside our childhood bedroom door, at the top of the stairway landing. Not scared exactly, but apprehensive, lonely, defiant. She already has to be here every day and doesn’t want us to have to go back. But I stand with her, slightly behind, my hand resting on her shoulder reassuringly. We both know it is something we have to do. She asks if she can wear a cape, like a superhero.
‘Of course!’ I exclaim. She slowly turns the doorknob, adorned in a cape, and armed with a sword. As the door cracks open we are both engulfed in rays of blinding white light, plunging into the unknown together.
Cassie (they/them, she/hers) is an Aerospace Engineer, Planetary Scientist, and complex trauma survivor pursuing a PhD in Space & Planetary Sciences at the University of Arkansas. They started writing as a way to make sense of and find meaning in their own story, and write about lived experiences including childhood sexual abuse, narcissitic abuse, anxiety and depression, religious abuse, and being a queer and non-binary person. When they are not doing research or going to therapy, Cassie enjoys reading, cooking, traveling, and spending time with their dog Reggie.