Last night my 10 year old daughter and me were talking as we snuggled in her bed before she went to sleep. I have been home watching the kids while my wife is at a Supernatural Conference, and have been dealing with processing really old traumas around shame and worth. I was tired, grumpy, and ready to just zone out and watch some eye crack (John Wick).
My daughter brought up something that I did to her when she was 6 years old, something that I haven’t thought about at all, but knew exactly what she was talking about the second she mentioned it.
When Annabelle was in first grade, she started having anxiety about going to school, but not just your normal butterflies in the stomach, full blown anxiety attacks that at many times led her to vomiting while we walked to her class.
For some background, I was a very anxious person for most of my life. I have been hospitalized four times because the pain in my soul was so intense for so long that the only relief I could imagine was not existing any more.
At age 21, a few months before me and Nikki were going to get married, I was in the hospital waiting for the nurse to call my name so that I could get my vasectomy. I had gone to 2 classes, and met with countless doctors who told me that at my age I should not be doing this, but I knew it was right.
I knew it was right, not because I didn’t want children: I love children. I did it because I thought it was not fair to introduce another being into a world that felt so scary and empty, and that it was not fair to pass my genes off to another person who may have to deal with the same world view. I had no question in my mind that I was making the correct decision.
As the nurse called my name for the procedure, I couldn’t go through with it, and ran out of Kaiser without letting the staff know I would not be going through with it.
So, as my daughter started displaying signs of anxiety, I got lost in my own trauma of childhood: the fear that she would be hospitalized, or kill herself, the guilt of bringing a child into this world with the curse that I was raised with, the helplessness of watching something so innocent get pummeled by their body and mind, and the knowledge through experience that no matter what I said or did, I had very little control over how and when she would get through this.
It had gotten to the point where every day me or Nikki would have to wage a war against our daughters fears to get her to enter the classroom. There were many times that me or the teacher would have to almost carry her through the door. Once she got in the door she would be fine, and come back saying she had a great day, but getting her through the door was a battle through hell every day.
She started running away from us once we got to school, running away from the teacher, running away screaming that she was going to die if we made her go in. She would say things like “Goodbye cruel world, hello death”. She would say if we understood how much it hurt her we would not make her go in.
And every word stabbed my heart, because I had been through the same thing, knew how it felt to have those that are supposed to be looking out for you force you to do things that feel like they will kill you, that make every cell in your body scream for an end to this experience.
I was so scared, and helpless, and embarrassed, and terrified. I didn’t know how to balance the responsibility to get my child to school, with the knowledge that by doing so I was pushing her past her pain threshold. How to balance my need for the teacher to help, with the needs of the other children who had to do without their teacher while we tried to coerce Annabelle into the classroom. The fear that socially she would be stigmatized by her peers as weak, broken, or scary.
For Christmas she had gotten a La La Loopsy doll from Santa that she loved sooooooo much. One day, after a week were she was late to class over 30 minutes most days due to the struggle, she started running away. I told her that if she didn’t go to class I would have to take away her doll, which caused her to panic more, and run farther (hollow threats were the norm now). After about an hour of trying to get her to go to class, watching passerby’s shoot what I interpreted as judging glances and me (“whats wrong with him, why can’t he control her, he must be an awful parent”), I told her that if she didn’t come with me to class at the count of 3, I would take away her La La Loopsy doll for a week.
She ran away.
I finally got her to class, but at that point I had made so many threats to get her in class and not followed through with them, that I felt I would have to do this one, that maybe if I followed through with a punishment, it would help her fall in line (exactly the same tactic my parents took, which I can assure you doesn’t work). When she got home, happy as a clam after a great day of school, I took her to her room and told her La La Loopsy was going away for a week.
She cried for over an hour.
But I held strong, this is how I will fix it, its because of my weak backbone that she is suffering, and once we get through this she will be better, and it will be because I made the tough choices.
I put the doll in the upper left corner of the closet in me and Nikki’s bedroom, and closed the door. We eventually negotiated that she could go in at night and say goodnight to the doll, and every night we would. I felt deep guilt every time, but knew it was the right way to do things.
By the end of the 7 days, when she got the doll back, she was so happy, and I really believe I had done something beneficial for her. My guilt faded, and she went on with loving the doll.
Annabelle brought this up as we snuggled in her bed, and started emotionally expressing how deeply that experience affected her. She told me how when we weren’t noticing she would sneak into our room, open the closet door to see the doll, and cry because she just wanted to hold it. How she didn’t understand how her being in pain was a reason to take away something she loved.
And I knew I had done something that had damaged an innocent soul. I had done something that as she was talking about it, I could feel her close it up and hide some of the pain because it hurt too bad. Something that in her later life she will talk to her friends or therapists about how damaging and unfair it was to happen, and how deep it hurt her. I had caused her trauma, at a level that at that age she was unable to comprehend or deal with, so she blocked it, and held it in her body, and filtered all other events in her life through it.
Because I took something that made her feel good, and safe, and happy, and used it as a weapon against her because I was unable to hold and own the guilt, shame, fear, and helplessness I was feeling, own my own trauma of being in the same situation as a child, and having the same things happen to me, and having those that were supposed to protect me attack instead.
I held space for my daughter, as I was completely activated and felt my mind and body switch to defense mode, I was able to sit and feel her pain with her. I told her that no one should have treated any six year old that way. I told her she has every right to be hurt by this, and to be angry at me, and hold this against me, that there is no excuse for what I did. I told her she does not need to forgive me, but that I was truly sorry for my actions. I told her every feeling she had on this was valid and allowed. As she started closing up around the pain, I told her that is OK, but not to block this trauma, to keep a little bookmark on it, and go back and process it when and how she is able. I told her this was a big deal, and I couldn’t ever know how much it damaged her, but I know it damaged her deep.
Not once did I try to justify why I did this to her, try to get her see how much pain I was in when I did this. I just held her, felt, listened, and reaffirmed how fucked up what I did was.
I am not beating myself up in any way, and not defending myself either. I am owning this. I hurt someone deep. I scarred an innocent, that I love. I did what others had done to me, what I have expressed in tears to therapists many times and explained how no one should ever hurt something so helpless and beautiful.
And maybe now I can start coming in from a different perspective on those things that were done to me as an innocent, things where others may have been so scared and overwhelmed that the only ideas they could act on the help me ended up wounding me deeper that they can even know. People taking the only right action they could.
I know I cant fix this, and my daughter will have to work through it as she progresses through her life, and is able to process it. She may always have a little part that is scared of me for this, that is scared the world will take away what she loves when she needs it most.
After my daughter fell asleep in my arms, in soft tears I went scourged the internet trying to remember what that doll looked like. There are tons of these dolls, and I could not remember exactly which one it was. Did it have orange or pink hair? Blue or black eyes?
I kept going back and forth between three different dolls, and couldn’t remember which one it was. Then I noticed the shoes, and remembered this doll had the most annoying shoes because the had ribbons attached to them that you had to tie up its leg, and Annabelle would always take them off and have me put it back on again, and I could never get it quite right, and I dreaded it every time.
I ordered on new, in the package, that I will give to her. I will tell her this is hers, and I will never take it away from her no matter what she does, that she deserves to have the things in her life that make her feel happy and safe, and nobody has the right to take it away.
Maybe a start to healing for her, or me. We will see.