the shadow room


It’s dark, and you’re little. You have to pee in the middle of the night. You can’t stay in bed, you have to go down the hall past that door and what looms behind it. The moon is shining in the windows, creating shadows, and filtering through the trees outside so that it looks like these ambiguous shapes are moving. Curtains flutter in the breeze. It’s terrifying. And then you turn on the light, and you see blinds, and a chair, a houseplant. Your heart stops pounding long enough for you to hear the wind rustle through the leaves of the trees. You note the breeze flowing through the screen of the open window. The darkness is only terrifying until the lights turn on. 


A few people, lately, have expressed that they have hit a wall in their healing process. This can feel like a lack of courage to face what is behind the door of a memory room in which the mind has suppressed the details of an early childhood experience. It isn’t really a lack of courage. It is more that the part of our being protecting that door is a really young child who remembers only the feeling as it coursed through the body, but couldn’t articulate the event and frame the significance of it. Whatever age you were when the moment took place is the age your inner child is as they guard that door. You don’t lack the courage to open it, look at all of the things you have accomplished in your life — chances are you are better at unobstructed authenticity and connection than your parents were with you, if you have children you are most likely a better parent, you are probably successful at work, and engaged in adult relationships that last. Courage is not your problem. That door is just guarded by someone who doesn’t feel safe and has developed to protect you from the unprocessed experience and resulting trauma. 


So, turn the light on. You are capable of parenting your own inner child. You know what you needed when you were small. You know what would have made you feel safe and connected. You know what you would say to a child in your care if they told you about that experience. You know how to validate the emotions of a person who feels violated, scared, abused, or disconnected. Other parts of you have grown up around this one emotion that seems frozen in time. If it seems far too big and you don’t want to open the door and turn on the lights in the shadow room alone, take someone with you. Find a friend, a therapist, a spouse, who will go down memory lane with you and affirm that you are safe. If you have found that relationship that makes you safe enough to even notice the room exists, chances are they can help you use the courage you already have to illuminate the shadows and process the events. 


Your inner child is not doing this alone. All of the growing you have done, all of the interaction you have had with the world as you have grown up, all of the internal work you have already done, all of these things give you the context you need to see the experience and those involved for what and who they are. If someone hurt you because they were wounded, the same eyes of compassion you are learning to use on yourself will be with you as you look at the event, and it will help you to experience closure. It may feel like cleaning out a wound that has been festering forever, but things tend to stay raw until they are properly cleaned and bandaged so they can heal. 


You don’t lack courage. I also don’t think that we forget our suppressed memories. I don’t remember details of every event, but I have found that the path the emotion took through the tissues of my body can often help me see enough to process both the circumstances, and the resulting feelings and ingrained patterns that have become barriers to my adult growth. Love allows me to embrace little me and hold her hand until she comes into the light and realizes that she can rest -- we have made each other safe. Maturity has replaced the need for the unhealthy reflex. 


Behind that door are shadows. But there are also answers to questions, and opportunities to heal old wounds. Turn on the light. You are safe. 

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