I’ve been seeing a survivorship therapist at MSKCC for the last couple of months. We mostly talk about my challenges with survivorship — how I’ve been dealing with my caught-between-two-worlds identity crisis, about feeling unsafe, and about grief. But we sometimes explore other topics too — for example, about family drama or about my job. During my recent visit, we touched on the topic of…my inner child. A topic I am very sensitive about.
I had brought up a dream I had last year where I saw myself at 6 years old, and as my adult self, interacted with my younger self (you can read about it here). In the dream, I try to coach my inner child, and to my surprise, she ends up trying to coach ME instead.
Apparently I’ve been very judgmental of my younger self — the way I was so shy and how I didn’t stand up for myself, for example. My therapist said that perhaps I should welcome that child into my life more often. She even went as far as suggesting I allow my inner child to make some decisions from time to time. So risky, I thought. But she told me that my inner child would have never judged me the way I’ve been judging her all these years. She was right about that.
My therapist also asked how I felt about my inner child. I said that I love her very much. I told her I also miss her, but considering my current circumstances and recent experiences, I am afraid she’ll be hiding for a while. I want to protect her. I, the adult, need to take on my current responsibilities and challenges.
My therapist said that my inner child possessed a level of wisdom I should not be dismissing so easily, as that wisdom could help with my survivorship. Although we didn’t go into details about what that ‘wisdom’ was (we may continue the discussion next time I see her), I suspected I knew what she referred to.
I remember myself as a child. I was such a free soul. Hardly ever complained. Forgot and forgave quickly. And yet, when I think of myself as a little girl, I often wish that she had been someone else. Someone closer to who I am today. Perhaps more aggressive and outgoing…someone who didn’t forget so quickly. But, who said that behaving like a child at times doesn’t have its advantages? Why can’t we create a bridge between the child and the adult? It’s like my survivorship challenge. Maybe I will never live in either world — the cancer world and the non-cancer world — 100% of the time, but I can create a bridge where I can allow myself to enjoy part of that world I miss so much. The world where cancer didn’t exist. I can take a break from the cancer world, because I still can.
After finishing my talk with my therapist I headed for my train home. But on my way to the train I came across Dylan’s Candy Bar. I have always seen it but never dare entered the store. All that sugar? No way! But that day I allowed my inner child to make that call. That probably wasn’t what my therapist intended when she suggested I allowed my inner child to make decisions. But the experience I had made me realize something new.
I went into the store and felt like I was a kid again, except with a lot more options. I didn’t question a thing. I grabbed gummy bears, bubble gums, chocolate, jelly beans, candy corn, chocolate-covered almonds, sour worms, sour watermelon slices, and many other kinds. I looked around the store and thought about how lucky the other children who come here are. I didn’t have those candies growing up, or the money. I smiled a lot in that store.
At home, I told my guy about what my therapist had talked about and my trip to the candy store. He reached for the bag full of candies. “Hey, those are for my inner child!” I said. “What, she doesn’t share?” he replied. When I caught myself making the decision, I quickly shifted to allow my inner child to run the show. “Actually, she does enjoy sharing. You can take what you want,” I told my guy.
Later that evening, I sat by myself and started to eat the candies. I didn’t think of sugar, weight gain, my health, or cancer. I watched a reflection of myself in the blank TV screen, a little girl eating candy. I saw how much I’ve changed, but also how much I’ve stayed the same at the same time.
I allowed my inner child to make a decision that day and it felt alright, even if it was just for that one moment. I allowed her to come out and play, but not for too long. Not for too long.
What are some things you miss about your younger self?