(started June 2, 2020)
“Nancy!” My stepfather bellowed, “You have to do something about YOUR child! I will not have him whining and acting up in my house!!”
“It was our house first,” I wanted to scream from the safety of my bedroom. “You moved in,” I mouthed, defeated and withdrawing once again. It was better to stifle my anger, my pain, my sadness. It was safer to keep my mouth shut. When I spoke, I only enraged him, and he took it out verbally on my mother. At seven years old, I was the cause of all their fights.
I heard the change in my mother’s voice, the resignation, her sadness. I knew what was coming next. The slam of the front door, the squealing of tires, followed by a deathly silence for a couple of hours until he returned. I knew there was nothing I could do to care for my mother. She had already shut down.
It was different now.
She no longer needed me.
I squeezed my stuffed triceratops, hid under my blanket, believing if I had never been born, then my mother would be happy. He wouldn’t have anything to get mad about. He only lost his temper when I screwed up and when my mother rose to protect me; Mama Bear suppressed to silence.
Alone, scared, and craving to be held and nurtured, I cried myself, once again, to sleep.
George Floyd, Protests, and Riots
The weekend after George Floyd was murdered and protests turn to violence and destruction, my inner child needed to run and hide.
I flash back to when I was eight.
I woke up one morning to my stepfather screaming at my mother because “PHOENIX didn’t clean up his mess!!” As usual, my mother defended me, only to become the victim of my stepfather’s rage before he, not getting her support, stormed out of the house.
I tentatively creeped out of my bedroom and into the living room. There was my masterwork, a bridge I had spent hours building the night before from a construction kit I got as a birthday present, scattered across the living room floor.
Quickly, before he came back, I picked up the pieces, some broken which would never allow me to build that same bridge again. I hurried to place them back into the box they came in. I had to clean this up before he came home. No tears shed. I couldn’t risk him coming home and seeing me hurt.
I cried internally.
Why couldn’t he have offered to carry the bridge to my room for me?
Why couldn’t he have left it in front of the TV for all of us to enjoy?
Why couldn’t he have praised me for following directions and doing this all by myself?
I made it in the living room so I could hang out with both of them, even if they were buried in their books not acknowledging my existence.
I made it so they would be proud of me.
Instead, I caused another argument.
Social media and the news sensationalized the 8 minutes 46 seconds Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. The entire footage aired time and time again for the entire world to witness.
This was followed by angry protesting mobs. Well, that’s how my inner child perceived the thousands of chanting people walking down streets raising their voices in rage. It was as if my stepfather had multiplied and his uncontrollable fury had gone worldwide.
Add the images of rioters looting businesses, destroying property, starting fires, and I saw the wreckage of my bridge, my hard work, intentionally, and for no reason, being destroyed.
America had turned into “that other country” and I couldn’t handle seeing the wrath and frenzy in my own backyard.
My inner child had enough. He didn’t want to relive his childhood trauma through the news.
I stopped watching. I stopped following social media. I refused to acknowledge what was going on.
I didn’t want to recreate the fear, the pain, and the thoughts that have been so deeply ingrained within me since childhood; “What I think, or feel, does not matter.”
Viewed in the media’s eyes as a “privileged”, middle class, white male, my inner child knew it was safer to put blinders on and keep my thoughts to myself. Anything I had to say would be attacked by somebody. Nothing I said would be considered “right”. There was always a critic.
Instead of trying to understand what was going on from each person’s perspective, in a political atmosphere as hot as this, it felt as if we had to “pick a side.”
That’s what happened with my parents. They never tried to understand each other’s perspective. They never empathized with each other. They never compromised.
Life growing up was black and white.
It was not safe to speak.
It was better to isolate.
And unfortunately, isolating only increases the ache and sadness that always seems to consume me.
My Mother’s Divorce
My mother and biological father divorced when I was three. A catholic woman divorcing her husband in the early 70’s and working outside the home to raise her son on her own was a huge embarrassment to our family, especially in the eyes of my grandparents.
My grandmother was a proud, stay-at-home mom, who demanded respect for all the sacrifices she gave up for her three kids. My grandfather believed the only job for a woman was in the home or as a secretary.
So, my mother, who wanted to be a dental hygienist, gave up her dream, not only to appease her parents, but to avoid the shame and lack of support she would have received had she pursued that goal. She settled as a secretary in a dental office to provide for her and I.
It took my mother four years before she had the courage to stand up to the verbal abuse from my father. This was because when I was three, I stepped into the middle of an argument, squared off at my father, and yelled, “Stop yelling at my Mommy! Stop yelling at my Mommy!” That was the moment she made the decision to leave him.
With her divorce, my mother quickly felt the wrath of shame from our family. My grandmother always compared her children with those of her sister and brother. For the rest of my mother’s life she tried desperately to earn validation from that mistake, unconsciously following in her mother’s footsteps and using me as a pawn to show how good of a parent she was.
It took me another 30 years to find out that her decision to divorce also caused her to be disowned by the Catholic Church. Even God chastised her judgment to do what she believed was best for her and her child.
After going through my own divorce, I can empathize the despair and pain my mother must have felt. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when the vision of a “happily ever after” future has been shattered.
My mother and I moved from a two story, three bedroom, brand new house, to a small 800 ft. two-bedroom condo that my grandparents bought for us. This, of course, was the perfect arrangement to keep their daughter monitored and controlled.
I instantly assumed the role of surrogate spouse and stepped up to be the “good boy”. The one where Mom says, “I could have never gotten through this without you.” One day, as she was sobbing on the bed, I placed a hand on her shoulders and said, “That’s ok Mommy. The sun will rise again.”
Such wise words from a three-year-old. And yet, what a responsibility and burden I ended up taking on at such a young age.
I became my mother’s little knight in shining armor. Her crutch. The one she could lean on when she was struggling.
I had a purpose; taking care of Mom. In doing so, I could make her happy. And when she was happy, I could win her love. And when I won her love, I finally felt loved myself.
Yet, when she was in the deep depths of her despair, she shut down and I was left to fend for myself.
The New Man
I was five when my mother met my stepfather. We had numerous outings, flying to southern California to go to Knots Berry Farm and spending time with his daughter. It was that “love phase” of a new relationship. I now had a father figure in my life (my biological father had disappeared a year after the divorce).
They were soon married, and I gained a sister (albeit only a couple weekends a month).
Life was good. I had a family. I was no longer alone. And my mom was happy.
Or so I had thought…
Like the majority of people, my mother followed the same patterns in her past, picking a mate who recreated her childhood wounding, the positive and negative traits of her caregiver. My stepfather was the son of a physically and verbally abusive alcoholic. Like his father before him, my stepfather would instantly go into a rage at the tiniest things.
My stepfather wasn’t physically abusive, trying hard not to follow that path his father had taken. However, his rages, never being wrong, verbal abuse, and viewing everyone else as idiots set me up to believe I had no worth.
He was a true born, opinionated, narcissist.
Nobody could do anything right. People were just plain stupid.
Life became a world of walking on eggshells, learning how not to rock the boat. It was unsafe to express emotion or disagree with him. Any belief counter to his was shut down in an instant. It was like growing up with a well versed politician who won every debate.
I literally had no voice.
My feelings and emotions were never validated, so I didn’t learn how to express myself without becoming too emotional. When I’d try to speak, it always came out as a whine. Showing emotion around my stepfather was like swinging a stick at a hornet’s nest.
Since my stepfather was quick to silence a whiny boy, my mother’s instinctive trait to protect her baby kicked in. I unconsciously learned, if I wanted attention from mom, I could use emotion to instigate a response from my stepfather, coaxing my mother to come to my rescue.
Unfortunately, my unconscious habit would cause my mother and stepfather to lock horns, my mother shielding her child and my stepfather putting her down for not being a good parent because her child didn’t act like an adult.
Like a child should act like an adult anyway!
We were right back to where we were with my biological father and yet, I knew better than to step in between these fights. Instead of facing the judgement and shame of another divorce, my mother ended up suffering through this abuse for the next thirty years until her death.
Eventually, I’d make my way to my room and shut my door.
Nobody noticed. Nobody checked on me. And I vowed to never show emotion again.
Every time I did, my mother got hurt.
Every time I did, I got dismissed.
It was safer to shove those feelings down.
And yet, my little boy internally screamed to be heard, to be loved, and to be nurtured. There was an emptiness deep in within his soul and I was trapped in an internal world of agony.
It’s not surprising my mother chose the men she did in her life. They’re the mirror image of my grandmother; a strong-willed woman who used shame to control. Holiday meals always started happy and joyous, followed by my grandmother having a little bit too much to drink and shaming my mother and uncles for one thing after the next. “After all I’ve done for you all these umpity ump years, and this is how you repay me?”
The “children” (my cousins and I) were not allowed to eat at the “adult” table, even though there was enough room for us in the dining room. This was another method of control, not teaching us the skills to communicate.
“Kids are seen but not heard” was not only something my grandmother lived by; she spoke it all the time.
In fact, when I was 41 and in therapy, I had queried my grandmother about our family, trying to understand why we never talked about certain events and the subsequent emotions that happened because of those. Not only did she tell me we will speak of this only once and never again, I was also cursed and yelled at by my uncle in a drunken stupor on the phone for almost two hours because I threatened my grandmother’s life with my questioning. “If she has a fucking heart attack and dies, it will be on your shoulders Phoenix!”
The message: You may be 41, but you’re still a ‘kid’. You are to be seen, not heard. Your feelings and thoughts do not matter.
When it came to my family, it was safer to shove my feelings and keep secrets. Expressing my thoughts and emotions was never safe.
When I entered kindergarten, surprisingly, I was a happy-go lucky kid. This was before my stepfather came into the picture. I was an early reader and going to school allowed me to interact with a bunch of different students. I was no longer alone and had peers to talk and play with.
The problem in kindergarten; I was bored.
We were learning ABC’s. I was already reading books. We were learning numbers. I already understood basic arithmetic.
What does a bored child do in school?
I talked to my peers.
I didn’t listen to the teacher. I couldn’t sit and listen to something I already knew how to do. And this of course got me into trouble.
I soon learned that not only was I not heard in my family; I was not allowed to be heard in school either.
The only way to get validation growing up was to keep my mouth shut, not ask questions, not give my opinions, and to work as hard as I could to be perfect and get good grades.
When I excelled, it made my parents proud. They gloated and talked positively about me.
When I excelled, the teachers treated me better. I was seen, and many times, I was made the example in the class of how to be a “model” student.
And that there became the downfall with my classmates.
I was seen as a threat, the teacher’s pet, and I soon became a target.
Never on school property though. Kids are smart. They wait until after the last bell rings. Practically every day, walking down the hill to my babysitter’s house.
I was an emotional, lost, tiny boy and I got my feelings hurt easily. The kids knew they could get a reaction out of me, so would push me and call me names.
Once I started to cry the provoking would intensify. “Aww. Is little Phoenix going to cry? Little cry baby Phoenix. Waa,” they would rub their fists against their eyes. “Cry baby, cry baby, cry baby.”
Eventually, the crying would subside, and that pent up anger would start to stir. This was the change they were waiting for. “Is Phoenix getting mad? Uh oh. Are you going to bite my finger?” They wanted me to snap.
I had learned the hard way that my teeth were not as good a defense as I had thought.
“Come on Phoenix, bite my finger,” they’d taunt, holding a finger in front of my face. I’d ignore as long as I could and yet, I couldn’t stop the years of bottled-up rage that was buried deep inside me. I’d EXPLODE and charge screaming, mouth open, ready to chomp on the first finger I could get to.
You’d think I’d know better.
It always ended up the same.
A fist would hit me in the side of my head, followed by a punch in my gut. I’d fall to the ground where I was kicked, beat, called names, then left in a crying heap on the cement, the boys laughing at me.
Constantly being picked on in school, I eventually spent my recesses disappearing into the fog-filled, grassy field where I could hide in the comfort of my books.
I learned boys weren’t safe to hang around with; they couldn’t handle my open emotions. I ended up fearing them. They were quick to anger, hiding behind their own emotions, and the judgment that came with my vulnerable personality kept me from allowing deeper friendships with them. On top of that, the girls in elementary school were disgusted with me.
As I got older, I learned I could connect with the emotional side of a woman. They felt comfortable being able to share their thoughts with a male. Unfortunately, I was viewed more as a “friend”, never a romantic partner, like the stereotypical gay male girlfriend. And this became yet another form of isolation. I learned the women I wanted a relationship with, only wanted a perpetual friendship.
These childhood and early adult wounds I carried into my marriage, unaware that I had established unconscious patterns that would hurt the very people I loved.
I was blind to the depth of self-hatred I had.
I was blind that my obsession to stay connected was due to a childhood wound that hemorrhaged and bleed with the belief that if I was alone, I would die.
I was blind that I had learned the faulty idea that love meant to parent another, ingrained into the neuropathways of my brain when I was three.
I was blind that I craved to be nurtured and cared for the way I never received from my family and expected this of my wife.
And I was blind to the deep, internal belief, that whoever I love will eventually leave me.
I was reminded time and time again that I never acted as an equal in my marriage, switching roles constantly from treating my spouse as a parent or treating her as my child. I see now why I did that, however, at the time, I had no clue how to change it.
It didn’t take long for me to regress into a childhood victim and lash out at my wife like my stepfather did to my mother.
It took divorce to see how my actions and reactions were the result of my own childhood trauma that got recreated in my marriage.
In addition, I choose a career that took me away from my family more than I was home. A career of constant testing, proving, and being perfect. A career of carrying the responsibility of hundreds of people a day and any mistake could cause injury or death to the people who had entrusted their lives to me.
A career that would drop me off at a different hotel, in a different city, every night, so I could recreate sitting alone in my bedroom, only wanting to connect with someone who was unable to emotionally connect with me. My ex carried her own childhood wounding into our relationship and as a stay-at home mom with two young girls, she was too exhausted at the end of the day to connect with an unavailable spouse.
I also never learned how to properly express my needs and wants.
How could I? It wasn’t safe for me to do that. I had no idea what I needed or wanted. I was never taught how to become in-tune with myself to identify them.
What did I do?
I repeated the habits I learned as a child.
I wanted to be heard so I screamed louder.
When that didn’t work, I manipulated with shame and guilt to get what I wanted.
I was completely unaware of what I was doing. This was an ingrained, unconscious, survival mechanism growing up in a world that shut me down.
In essence, due years of verbal abuse I placed upon my ex, the addiction I leaned on to medicate my pain, and the betrayal in our marriage, my ex lost all empathy for my personal struggles. It didn’t matter how many years I spent in recovery, the damage had already been done.
I made a self-fulfilling prophesy of the very beliefs I carried so deep in my psyche. My ex’s brick and mortar wall of emotion completely shut me off causing my inner child to fall into a chasm of despair.
And even with my newfound awareness, I was blind that childhood trauma isn’t something one can heal from just by “knowing” or talking about it. The brain doesn’t work that way when triggered. It goes deeper than that.
“…the engines of posttraumatic reactions are located in the emotional brain. In contrast with the rational brain, which expresses itself in thoughts, the emotional brain manifests itself in physical reactions: gut-wrenching sensations, heart pounding, breathing becoming fast and shallow, feelings of heartbreak, speaking with an uptight and reedy voice, and the characteristic body movements that signify collapse, rigidity, rage, or defensiveness…
“The rational executive brain is good at helping us understand where feelings come from…However, the rational brain cannot abolish emotions, sensations or thoughts (such as living with a low-level sense of threat or feeling that you are fundamentally a terrible person, even though you rationally know that you are not to blame for having been raped)…
“If we want to change posttraumatic reactions, we have to access the emotional brain and do ‘limbic system therapy’: repairing faulty alarm systems and restoring the emotional brain to its ordinary job of being a quiet background presence that takes care of the housekeeping of the body, ensuring that you eat, sleep, connect with intimate partners, protect your children, and defend against danger…
“Mainstream Western psychiatric and psychological healing traditions have paid scant attention to self-management. In contrast to the Western reliance on drugs and verbal therapies, other traditions from around the world rely on mindfulness, movement, rhythms, and action. Yoga in India, tai chi and qigong in China, and rhythmical drumming throughout Africa are just a few examples. The cultures of Japan and the Korean peninsula have spawned martial arts, which focus on the cultivation of purposeful movement and being centered in the present, abilities that are damaged in traumatized individuals. Aikido, judo, tae kwon do, kendo, and jujitsu, as well as capoeira from Brazil are examples. These techniques all involve physical movement, breathing, and meditation.”
“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.”
~ Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk (from his personal website)
My ex and I did not focus on the trauma piece as much as we focused on the cognitive understanding “why”. Instead of learning other methods of modality to reduce our trauma reactions and learn how to regulate our emotions, we still pointed fingers at each other as the cause of our pain.
We could not show empathy for the other while we still hurt inside.
To this day we continue to trigger one another, react, and isolate. We never learned how to connect, integrate, and heal. We never learned how to model a healthy relationship for our two daughters.
A few weeks ago, with the stress and uncertainty of COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests and riots, I’ve been told we need better boundaries because we’re hurting our girls. No explanation as to what specifically is going on with our daughters. No vulnerability to discuss what’s going on within us during one of the most stressful, uncertain events in the world’s history.
No discussion of healing the pain and the patterns that we continue to do after the divorce so we can be better co-parents for the two girls we adore and love so much.
It’s been pretty much a complete shutdown, reinforcing what I believed at seven, “I’m only wanted when I’m taking care of someone. When they no longer need me, they will move on and I will be left alone until they need me again.”
My inner child shouldering the burden that he’s carried all his life, “it’s my fault that the people I love pull away from me.”
Parenting Two Teen Daughters
To add more salt to these subconscious internal wounds, my two daughters are now teenagers learning how to separate from Mom and Dad, assert their own agency, and have pulled away emotionally.
No longer the “hero” when I come home, two girls squealing in delight to see me, it’s an act of will to get them to want to go out and do things together.
I watch my older daughter text her Mom with pictures and videos of my roommate’s little boy and the things we’re doing when she’s with me. And yet, when she’s with her Mom, I rarely receive a text when I try to connect with her.
The minute Mom picks her up, I watch her energy change, as she becomes Miss Chatty and starts making plans for both of them to go on a hike, go to the beach, ideas for cooking meals, and planning the next few days together. With me, there’s this ambivalent shrug of the shoulders, staring into her phone as she avoids all attempts at conversation.
“Why do you always want to talk about stuff Dad?” is what I hear. She’s quick to parent and put me down, many times doing this openly in front of friends. And when I call her on these actions her response is, “You always get so butt hurt.”
Logically, I understand the separation of a teen daughter from her father is a natural phase of life in the adolescent years, and yet internally, throughout the cells of my body, my inner child still cries, “I’m not worthy of love, I’m invisible, and now my daughter doesn’t care.”
This has been the hardest message to let go of.
Instead of nurturing my inner child, empathizing the deep emotional wounds from the past and the pain that keep resurfacing in my close relationships, I end up criticizing my inner child for not “growing up and acting like an adult”. This was the very thing my stepfather said over and over again.
Like cutting, my thoughts slash through my soul, my spirit bleeding from the reopened scars of my childhood.
“It doesn’t matter what I do. No amount of recovery and change will ever be enough for the people I love.”
Here’s the painful truth. And to be this direct and honest scares the crap out of me.
When it comes to George Floyd, the protests, and the riots, I’m afraid to have my voice be heard.
Not only has my voice been squashed all my life from the people I love, when it comes to the society I live in, as I mentioned at the beginning, I’m viewed as a “privileged”, middle class, white, American male who was fortunate enough to have a family that provided for my education and taught me to pursue my dreams and goals like a pit bull. Since the only way to receive validation was to succeed at all costs, failure has never been an option.
I followed in the footsteps of my white parents and have lived a comfortable life providing the same for my family.
I have no idea what it’s like to grow up in poverty.
I have no idea what it’s like to be of another race in a white dominated culture.
I have no idea what it’s like to be a woman living in a male dominate society.
I have no idea what it means to be a gay male or female living in a culture that holds such strong biases against same sex relationships.
The thing about our society is that we judge one another by what we see on the outside.
I’m quickly judged as someone who does not understand the plight of Black Americans. And, in many ways, that’s true, I do not understand what it’s like to grow up having to teach your children how to respond if they have an encounter with an officer.
I’ve taken my upbringing for granted.
My background with relating to law enforcement was fear. Not where I feared for my life. I feared the embarrassment and shame that I’d put onto my family if I had any interaction with the law. To be shunned by my family because of the humility they’d endure due to my actions was fatal to my inner child.
I had to be perfect in everything I did. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. I feared law enforcement from a strictly “I can’t screw up” mentality.
I have no idea what it’s like to see an officer as a life-or-death confrontation.
I have no idea what it is like to fear getting hurt by saying the wrong thing or moving the wrong way.
I have no idea what it’s like to have to teach your child exactly what to do and say if they’re pulled over.
I claim I understand racism because in my High School of 1600 kids, only 12% were white. We joked that we were the minority in school. I grew up not looking at race, gender, sexual identity, religion, or anything as a way to categorize and segregate people.
Since I was teased and beat up by all different races growing up, I understood that it’s the character of a person that matters most, not what they look like on the outside. Wasn’t that a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.?
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
And while I don’t consider myself a racist, I do realize there’s this internal need to “prove” I’m not when interacting with others who are different from me.
“I celebrated with 200 Eritreans on their Independence Day, the day they received independence from Ethiopia. I had such a great time. What’s that flatbread and meat called that’s so good? Oh yeah, Injera and Tsebhi. Absolutely delicious! And I loved being a part of their circular tribal dance.”
“The best wedding I’ve DJ’d was the one where two men got married. I wish my daughters were there with me. The diversity, the love, the letting go, the dancing and the connection is something I wish everyone could embrace.”
Why do I believe I must prove something? Because the color of my skin sets me up to be judged by others. That I’m just like every one of those “white folks”.
Coupled with my childhood issues, I feel it’s not safe for me to honestly speak up in today’s society.
I feel I have no right to say anything. And what does it matter anyways? Whatever I say, won’t be heard.
I wrote this piece in the beginning of June and just…stopped.
In June, in the middle of the pandemic and violent riots, I decided to do what I have always done; write about what was bothering me to help process the negative energy that was in my body. I had some amazing conversations with Rafiki about racism which I had planned to share with my Fledglings.
Then I hit a roadblock.
This wasn’t writer’s block. I knew what I wanted to say.
I wanted to talk more about the riots. I wanted to talk about Black Lives Matter. I wanted to talk about treating everyone, regardless of race, sex, or gender, with love.
I just questioned if it really mattered. Can I really make a difference? Will people care?
I tabled it.
I said, “I’ll get to it later.”
Later never came.
And it has since been waiting for the day I’d be courageous enough to publish it.
What I find so ironic is that summer of 2020, I went through another transformational change in my recovery. I learned how yoga helps me process the painful physical sensations I experience when my childhood trauma is triggered.
I learned what I needed to do when those triggers were activated and by finding what worked for me, I was able to release the energy from my body when I was off and I could bring myself back to a state of calm.
I let go with the daily obsession of wanting to connect with my ex and the sadness and pain I felt when it didn’t happen.
I finally let go.
I learned how to use my breath to better control my emotions, which opened the door for my older daughter to once again feel safe with me. We’ve reconnected and I realize much of the distance between the two of us was due to how out of whack my emotions had been. I was not a safe person for her to be vulnerable with.
In addition, I was physically healthier and in better shape than I had ever been.
I started living life, enjoying my days, instead of always focusing on everything that was not going well.
I stopped writing.
Part of that was because of this piece. I had opened up such a deep trauma wound that I started believing what I said didn’t matter. Another part was I also feared the uproar of the critics who may not agree with my opinions on such hot, political topics.
And yet, I think it was even deeper than that.
I believe I finally reached a point where I no longer had to prove myself.
I wasn’t on this quest to “fix” me, figure out what I did wrong, and do better so I could be perfect. I didn’t need to search for validation or love.
I had learned to love myself.
I accepted all of myself, the good and the bad, with all my gifts and all my flaws.
I’ve heard from many of my readers to continue writing; that my writing gives them hope and yet I reached a point where I lost my voice.
My Discussion with Rafiki
“Hello my good friend. It’s been a while,” I say enthusiastically after Rafiki answers my phone call.
“Phoenix. So good to hear from you. You’re right, it has been a while.”
“Time is an interesting phenomenon,” I explain.
“Yes, it is,” Rafiki answers, with a tone in his voice that urges me to continue. It’s as if he knows I have something important to say, no longer speaking as a mentor, but as an equal.
“I’m going to send you a picture. I’m here in Denver staying at the hotel when I went to the conference where I first learned about Adult Children of Alcoholics,” I press send on the text message.
“Oh yeah. Hadn’t you just moved out of your ex’s house?” Rafiki answers, more from a conversationalist tone than that of a guru.
“Yes!” I answer surprised he has such a good memory. “It was a couple of months after that.”
“I got your picture,” Rafiki exclaims. “I’m not understanding the significance of the hot tub.”
“So, this conference was where I first learned that childhood trauma is basically anything that’s less than nurturing. And that trauma becomes an underlying part of our personality.”
“Ok,” Rafiki pushes me again to continue.
I realize I’m preaching to the choir, “Anyway, I learned that it’s important to nurture ourselves, something we’re not taught as children. At this conference, I planned one morning to get up early and watch the sunrise from that very hot tub drinking a latte. I pampered my inner child with coffee and a morning of peace.”
“I remember!” I hear Rafiki slap his leg. I hear the enthusiasm in his voice.
“Back to time being an interesting phenomenon. Do you know how long ago that was?”
I imagine him thinking hard, scratching his chin. I can’t even wait a couple of seconds, break the brief silence and tell him first. “Four and a half years ago!”
There’s a deep exhale from Rafiki. “Has it really been that long?” He says this slow, disbelief in his tone.
“Can you believe it?” I continue. “I started blogging four years ago. 2017 was when I wrote my first blog. That was a journey you sent me on.”
Subdued he responds, “It seems as if it was yesterday. What a journey we’ve been on.”
I notice his use of the word ‘we’. Not a journey you’ve been on, but one we’ve been on. I push that mistake aside.
“It’s all because of you. You challenged me to grow and work on myself. I have so much to thank you for Rafiki.” I feel love in my heart. I can see where I was four years ago. The pain in my body, the feeling of being so lost. I was burning up in the depths of the scorching fire just before my rebirth.
Rafiki’s response surprises me. “Phoenix, I’m not sure if you understand how much you have helped me.” He emphasizes the word ‘you’.
What? Me helping Rafiki, my wise council? What could I ever contribute?
Rafiki’s voice shifts to his coaching tone. “Like the 12 steps say we should sponsor someone, like you’ve learned it’s important to understand the perspective of someone’s past to have empathy and compassion of their actions, you too have been instrumental in my own recovery. You’ve helped uncover some struggles and pains I needed to look at. Your insight has helped shine the light in areas where my thought process was shrouded in darkness. Your voice has contributed towards me becoming a better Mandril.”
He pauses to let that all sink in. I’m speechless.
Rafiki breaks the silence, “Phoenix, it is I that should be thanking you. Thank you for being so open and vulnerable. Thank you for gracing me the trust to share the depths of your pain. Thank you for allowing me to guide you, never one to lash out in anger, always up for a challenge. Thank you for taking me on your adventure of transformation. Thank you for lending me your voice.”
Even with the massive amounts of social media available to us, many of us still feel unheard. When we aren’t heard, we usually do one of two things. We either yell louder or we shutdown.
The louder we yell, the more we stomp our feet. The more we stomp our feet, the more we allow our childhood triggers to cause the adult child to throw a temper tantrum. The bigger the tantrum, the more we push away the people we want to hear us.
When we shutdown, isolate, and squelch our voices, we withdraw inward. We shove our emotions, our beliefs, and feelings deep down, believing what we say doesn’t matter. And when we don’t speak up, nobody knows what we’re going through. We then become confused as to why nobody understands or cares.
Ironically, the key to having a voice, is to listen.
You see, it was not being listened to as a child that causes us to scream or isolate. When we’re too busy trying to be heard or shutting down, we aren’t hearing someone else.
When no one is listening, the cycle continues.
The key to listening is to dig in deep to understand our own childhood wounding, our triggers, and how we react to those triggers.
As we learn what triggers us, we work the tools to bring our parasympathetic nervous system back online. For when we can learn to parent our inner child, we can open our minds and our hearts to truly have empathy and compassion towards others. In doing so we are able to listen to them.
If every one of us does the same, we’ll be listening to each other. And by listening to one another, we all feel heard.
Feeling heard leads to connection.
It’s connection that can heal our nation.
It starts with us first.
We must heal from our own trauma. And once we get there, we must keep our arms outstretched, hands open wide, to help one another heal from their trauma as well.
This is true transformation.
This is living life with love.
Let’s all transform and become reborn.
Together We Can Heal.