I don’t remember much of my childhood – and that’s probably a good thing because it’s a landscape better not traversed. Adult emotions and experiences flooded into my world at a time when I was far too young to process them. My childhood was punctuated by violence – first physical, and later sexual. And throughout all of this, it felt as though I was taken further and further away from myself. And later, as the trauma compounded upon itself, the familiar landmarks guiding me back to ‘me’, gradually faded as I became ever more distant.
There is one childhood memory that feels less like a ‘memory’, and more like yesterday. My childhood was governed by secrets and fear, and the place I felt the most afraid was lying in bed as the darkness began to envelop the room. For many years, I used to rock myself to sleep. Kneeling in my crib, and later in my bed, I would rhythmically rock back and forth as I pushed my head down repeatedly into my pillow. I would quite literally rock my bed across the room – desperate to find a way to self-soothe or quiet the fear that oozed out of me and worked its way across my skin in the form of chronic eczema. The palms of my hands and the bottoms of my feet looked like cracked and bleeding road maps to a frightened soul.
But there is one memory from my childhood that lies forever etched on mind, and now indelibly marked on my arm. There was one way I could make the fear go away … all I needed to do was to take myself away. When the secrets of my childhood became too overwhelming, I would find a quiet place, close my eyes ever so tightly, and then I would push the palms of my hands firmly against my closed eyes and keep them there for as long as I could. When I eventually opened my eyes, the most beautiful and magical white spots danced before me. And for that moment in time, no one could hurt me as I floated among these hypnotic white stars.
So here I am today, a middle-aged man looking back on all the years lost to addiction, depression, and isolation – the vestiges of childhood trauma, left unaddressed and unattended, for far too long. My story does not end here, as I now believe adversity to be a gift I never asked for. It has awakened me to an inner resiliency that I believe we all possess, yet rarely tap into. And those stars – well, I carry them with me today wherever I go. They are tattooed up and down my arm to remind me that perception and faith can deliver me from the darkest of fears.
As the author and poet C. JoyBell C. has said: “I think that we are like stars. Something happens to burst us open; but when we burst open and think we are dying; we’re actually turning into a supernova. And then when we look at ourselves again, we see that we’re suddenly more beautiful than we ever were before!”