Updated: Jun 20, 2020
“I want you to focus on the heaviness hanging over you as you feel the weight of the woman’s words shaming you. Find your seven-year-old self holding on to this pain.”
As I closed my eyes and followed my therapist’s suggestion, I felt the silver-dollar sized tappers come to life in my hands. Imitating the purring and kneading of a lazy housecat, their hypnotic rhythm allowed me to fall back in time to retrieve an abandoned piece of me. I sank into the memory, the tappers kept me tied to the present like a gossamer thread as I wound my way through the labyrinth of my mind. I knew the way in, I had been there countless times before. This time, however, was to be my last. This was a rescue mission, not some casual stroll down memory lane or a sudden flashback brought on by an unknown trigger. No, this was a premeditated plan to respond to a faint cry lingering from decades past.
I arrived on the set which should have been torn down years ago. Instead, dust had collected on the props, time had given the room a grimy patina. Despite the crumbling walls and the windows broken by past storms whipping through my soul, a sleeping bag lay still on the blue shag carpet. A spider, detecting my sudden arrival, scurried around the neck of a beer bottle laying on its side and disappeared into the opening. As it disturbed the caked-on goo, I caught the scent of stale beer. I was amazed how my mind could keep a trigger so fresh, even after 40 years. I took a moment more to scan my old bedroom – the pile of children’s clothes, a set of bunk beds, a Winnie the Pooh record. Although I could continue, I wasn’t here for these things. There was someone in need of rescuing.
I fixed my eyes on the closet, allowing the waves of shame radiating from its half-open door wash over me. My throat constricted and my chest tightened as I remembered. A woman’s voice echoed through my mind as my heart struggled to beat;
“Oh, yes, I see what you’re doing, and you SHOULD be ashamed of yourself.”
All my senses were activated at this point, and my adult body was responding as if it was reliving the shame and panic of this woman treating me as if I was a monster attacking her sleeping son. Sensing this, my therapist gently reminded me of my purpose;
“Remember, it is normal for a child to be curious about how their bodies work at this age.”
This was what I needed to remember my purpose for excavating this tortured space. I understood what I had to do. With my senses back under my control, I approached the closet door. I wanted to do so carefully, to not alarm the little boy inside. I knew him to be a scared, shamed part of me I had exiled to this closet, but he believed himself to be an unlovable monster. I took in a deep breath and mentally took another step towards the door. As I did, a different stench filled my lungs – self-loathing.
I hadn’t expected to be repulsed by my own hatred, and yet, here it was gagging me with its intensity. Years of decomposing anti-gay sermons, high-school bullies' torture and jeers, my father’s disappointment, and scars from overdone acts of contrition were emitting a stench so strong my stomach flopped. This was going to be harder than I expected. In stead of an innocent boy running from the closet and hugging me like a prodigal son, I had a Grendel hiding in this crevasse of my mind.
I sat down, cross-legged on the dirty, sun-bleached carpet for a moment. The #EMDR process my therapist was bringing me through was working. I was desensitized to this memory, but the reprocessing of it was sticking in my throat and making me nauseous.
In my therapist’s office, adult me grabbed a throw pillow laying beside me. I held it in my lap and wrapped my arms around it. I was still holding the vibrating tappers. Their kneading was just strong enough to reach through the pillow and begin to calm my churning stomach. I pulled my legs up onto the couch, sitting cross-legged like I had in my mind’s eye. Again, my therapist interwove words of truth into my reprocessing;
“You can give him what he needed all those years ago.”
This was the truth. I knew what this little boy so desperately needed because this boy was a part of me. I have known acceptance and love as an adult, but this part of me had been denied this healing. Instead, he held all the shame of being a sissy-boy no one could ever love. As I turned my attention towards him for the first time in 4 decades, I suddenly knew how to reach him.
A favorite childhood book entered my mind. This book had recently been made into a movie about a girl whose courage and love could reach across time and space to save her awkward brother and her beloved father. Although it felt silly, I knew the song from this movie would reach into this dank, rotting closet and begin the healing he needed. In my mind, I began to sing to him:
They come to see a fire burning in your heart
They want to witness, this love, from the start
They hear you when you cry
[My] love is far and wide
When you smile, the stars align
Flower of the universe
Child of mine
-Sade Adu (Flower of the Universe)
As the words poured from my heart, waves of grief and pain flowed through me. Decades of filth, lies, shame, and sludge rose from the closet floor, muddied the healing waters and were carried away on the words of a simple song. It seemed like an eternity before the pain began to fade and the waters began to run clear. When all the debris had been cleared away and my heart felt considerably lighter, I noticed a small hand grasping the edge of the closet door. And there, out from the shadows of my childhood closet, peered a beautiful, doe-eyed little boy.