A concept I came across in recovery from childhood abuse and trauma is that of going back to one’s childhood, to meet the child you were, and give her a gift with some words to go with it. Tell her the things that you wish she had known, that you wish someone, anyone, had told you back when you were suffering so deeply, silently, desperately, and alone.
Abused children often feel terribly alone, even if they have siblings who are also being terrorized by the people who are supposed to love and protect them the most. The experience of abuse is so profoundly personal and wounding that it makes the child feel like an alien on her own planet. As well, the family system and the system of our culture serve to further separate the child from the truth of her abuse experience and the harm it did her.
The abusive family culture’s prime directive is to perpetuate itself. It does not allow deviation. It prohibits the expression of the individual self, in thought, word, and need. The abusive family clearly prohibits the child from having her own feelings, her own needs, and even her own thoughts. She is relegated to a role that was assigned to her perhaps at birth, and maybe even before she was born. Her assigned role is designed to keep the system stable at all costs.
This cost is heaviest on the child but also on her parents and the society at large. Abusive families raise generations of children who are disconnected from their feelings, from being able to express themselves, or even to know what is going on within themselves. Often times the only example of emotion that expressed by their elders is anger, and very likely, rage. Rage that is often misplaced upon the children, taken out on their tender bodies and their impressionable minds.
When I recently found a little glow-in-the-dark star, I wished I could give it to the little girl I once was. I wanted to give her something she could hold onto through her whole life, that would give her strength and hope where none was to be seen. If I could take this glow-in-the-dark star back in time to a little girl who was maybe six years old, I would give it to her as a secret present. The good kind of secret, the kind that made her happy. Not the types of secrets that her family culture pressed upon her, the ones that were cruel.
I would show young me how the glow-in-the-dark star works. When exposed to light, even just a little bit, the star takes the light into itself and holds onto it tightly. When dark times come, the little star emits a light that shines into the world. This is the star’s own unique light, that it creates itself. It can create this light in part due to the light that it received from something else or someone else. Even in the briefest encounter with light, that star can draw the light into itself and use it to shine when the world goes dark.
I would tell that little girl who was me to keep the star in a safe place and to show it the light every day. To look at its light in the dark of every night, and remember that she, too, has a star of light inside her, a star of wonder. A star that has the amazing ability to take in light from any source and use it to reflect her own magical light back out into the world in the darkest nights and days of her life. I would tell her to always remember this even if she happened to lose the glow-in-the-dark star, or somebody mean took it or threw it away. I would tell her that the star inside her will never leave her, and nobody can ever touch it, hurt it, or make it stop doing what it was made to do. I would tell her that her star of wonder was made to shine its own unique light that gives something precious back to the world.
I would tell her, “Spend as much time as possible with nice people who are kind, and let them help you. Ask them to help you, because you deserve help and kindness. You know inside you the little voice that says ‘this is wrong!’ When somebody is mean to you, find somebody who kindles your star and ask them to help you.”
If I could go back in time, I would give that little girl the idea that she is special in her own way, has her own light to share with the world, and one day she would find that no matter what kinds of bad things happened in her life, her light would shine brighter and brighter, until it was a brilliant and fierce light of strength and kindness, compassion, justice, and integrity. It was always inside her and she just needs to remember.
If I could, I would give a glowing star of wonder to every child of earth.