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Splintered Personality: Healing the Versions of Myself

A black and white image of shattered glass or ice.  The splintered lines serve as a metaphor for the way we are fractured as we move through life collecting trauma wounds.

“I feel like there are three versions of myself attempting to coexist in this one body.”


Before the holidays my therapist gave me an assignment that stemmed from that one sentence.  I needed to spend time figuring out what the two younger versions of myself (kid me and teen me) needed when I was those ages and then recreate that.  I objected, who has time for that, and she reminded me that I was taking a week and a half of vacation. It sounded like I would have plenty of time to start making myself whole. She wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t excited about it either.  Before I began I had to sit with what I didn’t have in those phases of life, reliable loving parents.  


What did single-digit me need?  I needed to feel safe.  Most of the memories I have of my mother are before the age of 13 and the vast majority of those are trauma-filled.  The memories with my father, while stretching the breadth of my life, are similar in that trauma is the prominent feature in the majority of them.  It’s been established that the gaps in my memories are a classic PTSD response, so I know not to be surprised by what I do and don’t remember.  Our brains will do whatever they think is best to keep us safe and it’s up for debate on how well these responses lend themselves to allowing us to be functional in the world we live in.   


The overarching themes from my younger years are that I was lonely, scared, and parentified.  I spent a great deal of my time having my Teddy Ruxpin read to me.  He was my best friend.  I had human friends, but no one made me feel safe like he did.  That was the other part, I felt unsafe.  I never knew when a fight was going to break out.  When my mom was going to switch it up and be the other her.  The broken her.  The her that named a brown leather belt Curly and welded it like a whip.  Or if my father would be his shadow self.  The version of him I knew better than anyone else.  The version of him that made me scared of the dark.  I learned early on that the only person who I could count on to save me was myself, and by extension, I became the person my little brother could count on as well.  As much as someone only two and a half years older than him could be counted on.  This led to immense guilt when I moved out at 18. I became responsible for both of us when he was in Kindergarten. That day is forever etched in my brain.  Upon finishing school I stepped outside of my classroom to find that my mother wasn't there. She must still be at my brother's classroom I thought, so I headed to his classroom. She wasn't there, but he was. I needed to get him out, I knew I couldn't leave him there, so I told his teacher we were going to meet our mother at the gate.  We never met her at the gate.  She was always standing outside my classroom with my brother when I got out. 


I learned that day that if you walk like you know what you’re doing people don’t ask questions.  


We walked through the gate and about a block away from the school I stopped some older kids and asked if they could help walk us home because I didn’t know the way.  I never fully paid attention during our walks because for all of my parents' failings, up to that point, I assumed they would at least be there to get us home safely.  The older kids helped us and I got us into the house.  I don’t remember how.  Maybe the door was unlocked.  Maybe we had one of those fake rocks or a key under the mat.  Either way, I got us into the house.  I found my mother in the tub. 


Looking back I’m fairly certain she was drunk but I can’t recall that part of the memory.  I just remember her being in the tub, the bathroom being dark maybe with candlelight, and her being surprised and angry to see us, but maybe she wasn't. Maybe she was worried about what my father would say. That part of the memory is fuzzy, too.  I want to say there was a bottle, but I can’t say that with certainty.  What I remember with absolute clarity is the feeling of my childhood slipping through my tiny fingers.


After my parents’ divorce, I walked around with a key dangling from my neck.  The trauma badge of latch-key kid life.  My routine was the same, get to school, make good grades because anything under an A caused my father to notice that I existed and not in the ways I liked, pick my brother up from his class, walk with purpose to our house where I was instructed to lie about my age if anyone came knocking, get my brother and I started on our homework, and make dinner if our dad hadn’t put chili in the crockpot before he left for work.  Mostly I made us mac and cheese.  I had the recipe memorized.

  

I hate mac and cheese now.  Even the homemade one I whip up for my family.  It sticks in the back of my throat and turns sour in my mouth. 


My dad eventually remarried a woman who was warm, kind, and a good cook. The latter he was especially happy about. I was told at my mother’s funeral that she was a good cook.  I don’t recall the way a single meal tasted.  I only recall how butter runs down walls when dinner rolls are hurled across the room.  I guess my father wanted a new cook with a bit more restraint.  His second wife never threw dinner rolls.  


Decades later she’s still around, checking on my brother and me.  She’s filled her home with photos of my kids and a few shared family vacations. I believe she wanted to make our family whole; but looking back I think living under the weight of a man who was incapable of being the virtuous, loving, and reliable partner she had waited so long for broke her.  She would drink too. I learned that the hard way when I reached for a glass full of clear liquid one hot summer day and was greeted by something that was most definitely not water.  Her softness began to fade as the years went on.  When my brother and I reached our adult years, she apologized to us for all the ways she felt like she had failed us and let her feelings over our father impact how she interacted with us.  We were all suffering under the thumb of someone who saw us as window-dressing and not people.  


Years after their divorce, in a rare moment of clarity, my father admitted that he had taken things too far in their court proceedings.  He didn’t elaborate on why, but my best guess is that his ego was wounded because, unlike my mother, his second wife wasn’t willing to let him break her.  


When they said their last goodbye I was no longer a little girl.  Kid Me had learned to bottle her emotions and move through the world as a rage robot.  So what I needed for Kid Me was a reboot. An opportunity to be childlike, to feel joy and sadness without fear.  I spent half the day in bed watching cartoons with my youngest while eating cereal.  Then my glucose monitor reminded me that I’m not a kid anymore and I sorted my high blood sugar and then did some adulting while still enjoying cartoons in bed with my daughter.  


Balance. 


Balance, I realized, is how I achieve equilibrium with the splintered parts of myself.  I have to tell the whole story though and sit with it before I can fully reach a balanced state.  That part is terrifying.



In my past, Kid Me turned into Teen Me whose sadness festered, a gangrened wound on my heart, and I learned to hide the scars living under the surface of my flesh with sarcasm and alcohol.  What I wanted, desperately, was to be loved and seen as a whole being, not merely for the masks I wore to appease others.  Teenage me needed supportive, understanding parents who worked with me to heal the sad little girl that lived inside.  That’s not what I got, so as I sat in a telehealth session 20 years later and my therapist asked “What did teenage you need?”, all I could muster was “a hug”.  


That was the crux of it.  I was a splintered mess because what I needed most in this world wasn’t family perfection, I needed a goddamn hug from my parents.  A real hug.  The kind I wrap my children in, where they turn into pudding and release all the bullshit they’ve been carrying around that day.  I needed my parents to hug me not because they were trying to get something out of me, a way of loosing me up before driving a blow, but because they wanted me to know I was safe and loved no matter what.  


My therapist asked if there was a way I could achieve that, maybe a human who could act as a proxy, but I couldn’t see anyone filling that role - not because they lacked the capacity but because the relationships are different and it wouldn’t feel the same.  “I feel like parent hugs hit different”, I told her.  I have a couple of fleeting moments with my parents hugging or holding me.  There's a picture tucked into one of my computer screens of my mother embracing me.  I don’t remember that day or that moment.  If that picture didn’t exist I wouldn’t know she could hold me that tight.  I can hold her urn all day long but it will never be the same.  I have a list of reasons why I’m estranged from my father and the hope of a genuine hug isn’t strong enough to make me wavier on the peace I’ve chosen for myself and my family.  He’s shown me who he is time and time again, I can’t say I love myself if I continue to return to a dry well hoping to be quenched.  


“Ok”, she began after taking in what I said, “what are you going to do instead to start the process of healing that part of you? And gun ranges are still out of the question… for now.”


I told her I wasn’t sure yet, but I was learning toward something that involved my children and an assignment she had given me months before that I had pushed aside. I would finally say yes to my kids for a whole day.  A. Whole. Damn. Day. A whole day where I relinquish control and let them take the reins.  While I can’t go back in time and get my parents to see what I wanted and needed, I can give my children the opportunity to seize the day in the present.  


I gave them notice of the yes day and even printed out sheets where they could brainstorm what they might want to do or want of me. I was surprised and humbled by how small their asks were.  Our day included a cat cafe, the mall, a comic book shop, the promise to purchase some plushies from Fangamer the next time I got paid, then five hours of family Minecraft, and lots of hugs.  They didn't want much, because children rarely do. What they want is to be seen, heard, supported, and loved. We're the ones that complicate those simple asks with our baggage.


Were they the parental hugs that teenage me needed? 

No, but that day was one of those moments in my life that reminded me that I’m now the kind of adult I needed when I was a kid. Moments like that, go a long way in helping to heal the splintered parts of myself.  They aren’t a complete fix, there is still a lot of heavy lifting to do, but those moments make the lifting easier.  


Along my journey in life, fractures were created with no quick and easy fixes in sight.  While the work toward wholeness will be hard, seeing how I’ve become the person I needed when I was younger reaffirms that the work is absolutely worth it.  


I still would have liked that hug, though. 


Copyright(c) 2024 Rayven Holmes
















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