- Janyne McConnaughey, PhD
Our Tenacious Inner Child
“You want me to do what? A Facebook Live event about an uncontrolling God and my story?"
Done. (Well almost, this posts a day ahead, but I am committed.)
I am that woman.
It occurred to me at the gym yesterday that I have always been tenacious. When I was in sixth grade, my friend’s mother convinced my mother to let her take me to swim lessons. I was probably 5’5” and was placed in the beginner class with 4-5 year olds. The instructor looked at the line-up on the side of the pool and took pity on me.
She said, “You do everything I tell you to do and as soon as you master what you need to for this class, I will move you up to the next class.”
By the time the two weeks were over, I was in a class that looked like I belonged.
I was that child.
Right now, I am finishing the final edits on my book. It is the story of how I, like Alice, fell down the rabbit hole in my head and had to fight for my life. Now knowing the amount of trauma I held in me for almost sixty years, it is literally inconceivable that I am where I am today.
I may be the most tenacious woman on the planet. (Just ask my therapist.)
When I was in third grade, I convinced my parents to buy me a bike, but no one had time to help me learn to ride it. I took it to the stretch of sidewalk beside my house and taught myself. I was up, I was down, I was up, I was down, and then I was riding.
There is a look I get in my eyes, when I decide something is worth whatever pain it might cause to accomplish it. I thought maybe I had lost that look during the past two years, but I didn’t realize it was occupied by healing.
Yesterday, I had an essay published in a book. It was an essay I wrote last fall for a blog. It was the first time I told any portion of my story publicly. That was a ridiculously brave thing to do. My therapist just kind of shook her head and smiled. She was used to me taking these leaps by that point. Now I am scheduled to talk about my story and essay in a Facebook Live event tomorrow. She is still shaking her head at me--and smiling.
Yes, I was that client. I knew no other speed but fast. I worked relentlessly to process memories as they surfaced at breakneck speed. I probably wrote thousands of pages—so much so that it has been a great challenge to condense the story into around 250 pages.
The only way to make it clear how impossible it is for me to be where I am is to explain that three weeks into therapy, I came to the realization that I had survived by dissociative coping mechanisms. (Scott, I told her there were three of me.) My uncanny ability to do almost impossible things was in part due to subconsciously splitting my personality into 20 plus parts to compartmentalize the pain. This type of coping is how very young children who experience repeated episodes of sexual abuse survive. It is hard to diagnose and difficult to heal, even with years and years of therapy.
What I did in three years is really not possible.
I remember the day when my three adult parts made a perfect three-point landing on the therapy couch. I knew them instantly. I understood the constant stream of multiple conversations in my head. My world was spinning, but my path was clear. God had sent me to therapy to heal and that is what I intended to do.
I was that woman.
As part of my final book editing over the past week, I have taken time to read the entire 250+ pages again. Whoa! I have had a few moments when the magnitude of what I lived through during the healing process settled on me. I wasn’t just slightly un-OK: I was certifiably not OK. I was not OK for very good reasons, but that didn’t make it any easier.
When I tell others they can heal, I understand the work it will entail. I also understand my tenacious inner spirit that made me run towards the fire. Little Jeannie was tenacious and so is adult Janyne. In addition, God gifted me with a therapist who dedicated herself to my healing and kept me safe as I fought to save my life. To gain mental health, I had to walk through mental hell. If you don't understand why people contemplate suicide then you have never been to that deeply painful place.God created us to be emotional beings and when it goes wrong, the pain in indescribable. Never judge those who fall into that mental hell. If you had been there, you would understand.
One of my missions is to tell other to seek healing as early in life as possible. For children, it means that, just because they seem to be OK after trauma of any kind, does not mean they are OK. Every child who experiences trauma needs help. Trauma comes in all sorts of ways—all the way from a frightening experience, to the loss of loved one, moving, car accidents, and abuse. The definition of trauma is, “A deeply distressing or disturbing experience” (thanks Google). There is not a child on the planet that hasn’t experienced some form of trauma—sometimes due to their inability to understand or the misinterpretations of an event.
All forms of trauma do not require professional help, but they do require informed and compassionate adults. If a child’s behavior makes no sense, there is a reason. Parents and teachers, get them help.I went to the library today and pulled five books off the shelf that dealt with 'managing' childhood behaviors. I looked for the word trauma in the index. It was never there. That behavior may be the result of trauma just doesn't seem to be on our radar.
For adults, the need for help means seeking help before you are 60 or before it is too late. It is very unlikely that many will uncover the depth of trauma and dysfunction I did. The emotional turmoil might simply need some help in re-interpreting childhood messages. There are many layers I worked through that would have been so much easier if the abuse hadn’t occurred.
Uncovering and healing even one layer can have amazing results. Many would benefit from a relatively short time in therapy. Why live with emotional distress if it is not necessary?
I can tell you the answer to that question. We fear the fire. We are like someone who is trapped in a building during a fire and the only way out is to run through the fire. This is a terrifying proposition even if the only thing we see is smoke. In that moment we have to decide living life (to its fullest) is possible and worth the risk.
Jeannie was and is tenacious, but I don’t think there is really anything inside me that is not available to every human being. We are born to live. Life may have beaten this part of us to a pulp, but deep down, that determination to live life is still there (or we wouldn’t be here). Inside each of us is a tenacious inner child. Sometimes the way this child learned to survive is not healthy.This part of us we hate may very well be the very child who helped us survive. The rage inside of us we may not understand might just be that tenacious child. My inner child took many forms but one was an amazingly ferocious warrior. She is so glad to be free to fight battles to help others.
There is life on the other side of the fire. Maybe the fire is just smoke that is hiding is a sunny day on the other side. We will never know unless we gather our tenacious inner child and walk through it. Grab you inner child and run toward that fire!
“God, you want me to do what? You want me to go to therapy?”