Meeting Myself In the Attic

nathalie website (2)

This essay was workshopped in The Layers Writing Workshops.

I never thought I would have the courage to finally face the world.

For so long I was afraid to admit it, because really, I was avoiding it.

I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, in a very well-to-do Jewish community where many kids my age had two-parent households, community center memberships, designer clothes, trips to ski and summer camps, family gatherings and parties, beautiful homes, and even personal drivers to pick them up from school. 

I came from a home that felt broken and complicated, where I mostly felt alone and that I was never good enough. The main priority was to be thin. My grades were far from good, my social life was always interrupted by endless grounding. We didn’t have money for extracurricular activities or memberships like the other kids in my class. Later I realized that I used to fail my tests so that I would have to redo my courses as an excuse for never traveling anywhere during the summer or winter.

I was faced with so many confusing experiences and questions about life, marriage, love, and family. As an extremely sensitive person, I learned to lie, to cover up, hide and pretend that all was fine just to have what felt like a little bit of release from the pressure of what was going on inside myself and my real life.

My ‘real life’ looked something like always coming home to an empty house. My parents had divorced when I was nine and it was highly contentious and it spilled into every aspect of my life. We were all overwhelmed in our own ways, trying to make sense of the feelings, especially anger.  

My anger was exchanged for depression, despair, and numbness.

I got stuck in numbness. I turned off my feelings when I discovered that switch. It was the safest zone.

When I would allow myself to feel, I would spend long hours in my room alone writing, crying, most of the time wanting to disappear and stop feeling.

Then I would binge, to disassociate from what I thought was an ugly body. Food became a refuge in moments of deep pain and loneliness.

Sometimes, I would shift into this other girl; the one that would speak for long hours to her friends- advise them, help them, and be the emotionally smart ‘psychologist’ that had so much wisdom and maturity. I would then go out, have fun, be funny, dress up, look great and even have a boyfriend – as if I was carefree, happy, and fun.

I was bouncing between these two realities. 

It felt like I was living a double life.

Since then I’ve done a lot of healing work. Through the years of therapy and growth, I have discovered a path to connect to that lonely little girl inside me. It was as though she was locked up in an attic where it was dark and cold.

I remember that girl as I remember her in a picture I once had; she was wearing a ratty nightgown and her hair was messy and I had such a visceral reaction that at the time I ripped the picture to shreds. 

But in therapy, that girl came to life. 

No one knew about her but me. I kept her hidden.

I ignored her and I neglected her.

So much self-loathing was rooted in that child begging to be let out of that attic in my mind. To be seen and held. To be loved. To be healed. 

But I made excuses. I justified that my life was too busy and too intense. I told myself that I had too many present struggles to deal with. That I couldn’t deal with the burdens that she would bring out of the attic. 

It took time and healing to realize that ignoring her was the very thing that was causing me so much pain. 

So I decided, with a lot of guidance, to go meet her.

One day as I sat in my therapist’s room, I closed my eyes and I imagined I was walking up those cracking steps toward the attic, feeling how my heart was racing with each step, my mouth getting drier and drier and my tears just flowing down. 

At the same time, I was feeling how a sense of compassion and love was reaching a crescendo that announced that I was finally ready, after almost 40 years, to open that door slowly, and meet that little girl.  

I didn’t know what I was going to find. I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to do, or what to say, but I just sat there. I watched her body language and then I felt her pain. I looked into her eyes and saw her soul.

I saw me. 

I collected her in my arms and I saw her beauty and her strength. 

I told her I was sorry for all the years I locked her up and ignored her, I explained how I was so afraid to break down and never come back.

I told her I was finally ready and asked her if she wanted to come with me out of the attic.

She wasn’t ready to come with me that day. I wasn’t actually ready either. But she let me open the blinds in that room so that she could start to get used to the light.

With time, and many visits, we walked out of there hand in hand. 

I had to learn how to integrate her into my daily life. How to introduce her to the family I had built. How to relate to my children with a new embrace of her being part of me. 

I am still learning every day how to mother this part of me like I know I still need. I am the adult now that I desperately needed back then, that recognizes, loves, and accepts myself for who I am. 

I learned for the very first time the meaning of self-compassion. My default in the past has been to dissociate and disconnect when I’m faced with emotional pain. Today, although sometimes it feels physically painful I encourage myself to stay, listen, and be present for those emotions. I am capable of a different level of communication with myself and the people in my life. 

Today I know that I don’t need to hide in the attic when things get difficult in order to protect myself. I know that I have the courage, skills, and the space to hold complicated feelings in my body and process them compassionately. 

I have learned the real meaning of intimacy; being seen and seeing those around me. I am able to be present for the joyful and the challenging. I have learned to soothe myself and work on my self-dialogue. I remind myself that I can do hard things, hear hard things, and feel hard feelings and be present throughout. 

I affirm my own strength; that I am still standing, upholding my values, learning, and always working towards growth. 

I tell that little girl that whatever life will send her way, she will develop the tools to get her through those hard moments. I tell her that she doesn’t have to be alone. I tell her that she will curate love in her life. I tell her that she doesn’t need to hide anymore. 

I remind and reassure her that now, finally, she is safe.