After I returned from Germany the scenes as if I recalled so vividly in Harburg had receded. I felt like I had left the sorrow back where everything started. That’s where it belonged. My disturbing memories had all but disappeared. I no longer felt the mental destruction or the pain.
I was proud of myself for having faced the memories and felt I had won. I felt more secure about myself.
At least I thought I had won, until about three weeks after returning from Germany. One Sunday morning I woke up from a nightmare so vivid, so real, that the emotional pain of the dream continued to play like a movie in my head even after I opened my eyes.
I remembered every detail of the dream. I was sitting duct taped to a chair. Water poured in behind me, filling the room. I turned my head as far as I could in both directions looking for the door and window. There was no door or windows. Panic and fear suddenly overwhelmed me as I pulled frantically at the duct tape, ignoring the cutting sharp pain. When the water reached my knees I stood up and inched the chair toward the wall. I swung the chair hoping to break the wall but the chair bounced off without making a dent.
The water rose faster and faster as I continued to struggle, but it was already up to my waist. I told myself to put every ounce of energy into beating the rising water and slammed the chair against the wall again. It seemed useless, nothing happened except to cause pain in my arms. As I stood in a bent position, the chair still on my back I watched the rising water. I felt fear and panic until I saw a basket float by. At first, it floated toward me, but then changed direction and floated toward the wall. At the same time, smirking faces of my relatives appeared on the ceiling telling me to save the basket.
How can I save the basket when my hands were tied to the chair. I screamed in panic.
The faces and voices simply turned away and disappeared into the ceiling.
When the rushing water reached my shoulders, it stopped. The basket floated closer. I moved forward and used my chin to hold the basket down. But the current turned the basket and I could see what was inside. It was a child. Miraculously, my hands came loose and I grabbed the basket. The chair floated away and the water began to recede. The room brightened. Windows appeared on all four walls. I took the basket in my arms and walked toward a door that suddenly appeared in the wall. The child in the basket started to cry. I noticed it was a baby girl. I looked closer at the child and, startled, it was me.
I screamed at the top of my lungs, “Help me! What do you want me to do?”
One of the faces in the ceiling said, “Just pick her up and take her home.”
My mind raced. I said, “Why should I save her?” she should never have been born. “I don’t want her to live the life I have lived. Let her die.”
My words darkened the room. The windows and door disappeared. The water poured in again, faster than before.
I cried out, “Why I’m here, why are you haunting me? What have I done?”
Another face, much friendlier looking, appeared in a golden glow and with a soft voice said,
“Don’t you want to help this child grow up? Don’t you want to see what you could have become without abuse in your life?”
Terrified, I screamed: “No! I don’t want to know this child, she is dirty and filthy. It was her fault she didn’t do what she should have done. She is weak. I can’t help her. I don’t like her. She is everything my father said, stupid, dumb, and no good, not even worth the food she will eat. I don’t want her to live.”
The soft-spoken voice disappeared from the room and I was alone with her. I didn’t want to look at girl. If I ignored her, I reasoned, she would disappear or drown. The little child’s cry turned my head and saw her two little hands reaching for me. The moment I reached into the basket to lift her out the water stopped and I felt the warm lively body of another human being. Yes, it was me, I was holding myself, a child asking for nothing but to be cared for and loved.
I awakened, startled. Bathed in sweat I jumped out of bed. As I stood in the kitchen fixing a cup of coffee I continued to see the dream. It had taken over my life. Fear, disappointment, these were my main feelings. Tears poured down my cheeks. My hands shook as I poured the coffee into a cup. I didn’t understand; was I still dreaming? How could I raise myself?
My rejection of the little girl scared me. Yes, I hated myself all my life. I had rejected myself. I felt just like my father always said, dirty and put on earth to serve others. I cried so hard that my body was shaking. I felt as if tears were coming from everywhere, washing the shame and guilt out of my body.
I had hidden the sorrow of my childhood for almost fifty years. This was the first time I even admitted it to myself. I had grown up being rejected and told everything was my fault. Even as an adult I hadn’t come to terms with these feelings. I doubled over in pain as the tears flooded down my cheeks.
The dream followed me for days, I was unable to shake it. I knew then, I had to face the dream again.
During an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) session I began to understand this rejection of myself. My new awareness shocked me. I learned that as a child I completely accepted what my parents told me. I depended on them like every child must, I accepted their action and reaction as a way of life.
I learned very early in my childhood to ignore my feelings and needs. Later, as a 12-year-old, I even labeled myself as dirty and unworthy. By the age of 16 I no longer wanted to live. I felt so unworthy and not perfect, and to add to my misery I had psoriasis. A little voice in the back of my mind told me many times not to believe my feelings, but the imprint was already too deep in my subconscious. I despised my parent’s way of life and yet I found myself acting just like them. How could I think and act like my parents? I asked myself. How could I let my parents win?
At that moment it was clear why the child in me could not grow up. Why the pain of the past, in spite of all the therapy I had received, was still so vividly alive.
It was the child inside of me, crying out for acceptance. Waiting all those years to be loved and cared for. It was the child in mental pain that rejected itself because, I was rejected by my parents. I know now I couldn’t love or respect my self because I never received the same. Nobody ever gave it the right to cry or arms to flee into.
As I learned to repress my emotions I closed the door. My subconscious locked my emotions permanently and, with it, the ability to grow emotionally or deal with similar problems.
Today, I am free of my childhood experiences. I have cut the umbilical cord to a past that has filled my mind with nothing but negative thoughts. I am now an emotionally healthy adult capable of dealing with life’s difficulties.
It wasn’t easy reaching this point though. It required one more trip back to my hometown, Harburg, Germany, where I literally relived shadows from the past.
Not everyone haunted by the experiences of childhood has to face the past physically, but they have to face it emotionally if they ever dream of being free. If we don’t face these memories we will never be able to live as a whole person and could pass our learned mistakes on to our children as a way of life.
This book is my journey through the haunting shadows of the past. I hope it will help anyone who has suffered similar experiences to escape from their own haunting shadows.