Blog Posts | Internal Family Systems | Sexual Abuse

A Story of Freedom

March 29, 2018

I had done it again. Last night, I had listed all the things I wanted to get done today. All of the tasks today had been important as they focused on three goals I was currently pursuing. Now, all of today had gone by, and I had done none of them.  Instead, I had distracted myself all day with other stuff. Small tasks, miscellaneous odds and ends, watching a video or two, reading a chapter or two in a book…..It always went like this.

With a sigh, I plopped down on my sofa and stared out the window. And then, I heard it, that quiet, mental voice behind the surface of my thoughts. “I don’t want you to do it.”

I sat up, surprised. “Why not?”

“Because your dreams and goals will never happen anyway. You may as well not even bother to start. If you try to accomplish your dreams and they don’t happen, you will be disappointed. I don’t want you to get hurt or be disappointed. Therefore, I distract you from your goals so you never start pursuing your dreams in the first place.”

I paused, stunned by the revelation. “Okay. Why do you think dreams will never happen? Why do you think I will only be hurt if I hope and dream?”

He looked at me, sadness on his face. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“Yes,” I replied gently, tears already filling my eyes.

“Okay,” he replied. He pointed to a hole in the ground I hadn’t noticed. “Down there.”

“What’s down there?”

“You’ll see.”

I approach the hole and look down a deep shaft into the earth. A spiral staircase cut into the side of the shaft disappears into the blackness. I enter the hole, walking carefully, one hand on the wall for balance, the other holding a flashlight to illuminate the way. Some of the steps are crumbling, and I watch my footing, careful not to stumble.

I go down, down, down into stygian darkness. I don’t know how many feet I’ve gone. By now, the light at mouth of the shaft is only a faint pinprick. I feel buried alive in the bowels of the earth. Then, there are no more steps. I’ve reached the bottom.

The area at the bottom is small. I shine the flashlight around, and then I see it: the box. When I look at it again, I realize it’s not just a box. It’s a cage. Inside, a six-year-old girl sits doubled over, her knees drawn to her chest, her head bent. The box can’t be more than two-foot square. Through the bars, she squints at the light, terror on her face, and buries her head against her knees. Quickly, I snap off the light and total darkness envelops us. The light on the surface, that tiny pinprick, is so far away….

I sit down on the last step of that shaft and weep, bent over against my knees like the girl in the box, as her trapped despair and utter hopelessness wash over me. This was all she had ever known: this blackness, this dampness, this despair, this utter belief she will never get out. I weep at such cruelty. And then, I lift my head, for that’s when she starts to sing. She sings many songs over and over, her thin little voice lost in the black eternity of that hole. Doubled over, she sings and sings.

I weep, weep the tears that she cannot, feel the terror that she dare not, mourn the darkness that is her only normal, grieve the losses that trapped her in her box, weep at the agony of her singing. I cry until I can cry no more. After a bit, I start to really listen to her singing, and a little grin tugs at the corners of my mouth. She may be trapped, she may be hopeless, she may be blinded by the darkness, but she sings. To not sing is to lose her sanity, and she’s too stubborn for that. Her music is her protest, her rebellion, her effort to keep what little of her identity remains. They thought they could cage her soul too, and they failed. This little girl has spunk!

I wait till her voice drops silent again, and then I start talking gentle, light nonsense. I snap the light back on, and she blinks rapidly, putting up her hand to shield her face from the light. I look around for something to remove the top of the cage. I find it: a drill. Still talking softly, I take the drill and remove the screws from the top of the cage one by one. Finally, I lift the whole top off. She blinks disbelieving eyes at me.

“Come. Let’s get out of the box and walk up there, to the light.” I point to that pinprick above us. She looks up, sudden hope springing into her eyes. She looks at me again and nods. Gently, I take her emaciated shoulders and lift her up out of the box. She makes no sound, but her face twitches and I know it hurts.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper softly. “You’ve been bent over so long your muscles are tight. We will go slowly.” I sit down on that bottom step again with the girl in my arms. I gently massage her arms and legs to restore some circulation into the cramped limbs. She whimpers but lets me continue. Somehow, she knows I’m trying to help her.

I feel a tug on my hand. I look up, and she is pointing towards the sky with a questioning look on her face. “Yes, we are going up there. Can you walk now?” She nods. Gently, I take her hand, and we start the long, slow climb back to the surface. We stop to rest every ten steps or so, her long captivity having made her weak. Stubbornly, she keeps going, refusing to let me carry her even when I gently urge her.

Finally, we stop and she collapses, exhausted. Gently, I pull her into my lap. “I know you are tough. Your singing showed you have plenty of spunk. You needed all that trapped down here for so long. But see, I’m here now. You don’t have to do it alone. We are meant to help each other. Will you let me carry you?” Her eyes look doubtful, and then she speaks her first words.

“Are you sure it’s okay?” Her voice is surprisingly strong, a hint of suspicion in her eyes.

“Yes. I know you had to be tough down here, but you aren’t down there anymore in the box. We are going up there.” I point towards the light above us. “Up there, we love each other and help each other and carry each other if we need it.”

She holds herself stiff for a moment longer, indecision in her eyes, then suddenly leans against me. “Okay. You can carry me.”

“Thank you. Thank you for trusting me. I will be very careful.” I stand up and she wraps thin arms and legs around me and lays her head on my shoulder. With frequent rests, we finish our climb out of the bowels of the earth.

We emerge out of that dark cave into brightest blue skies and blinding sunlight. The little girl squints and clamps her hands over her eyes, the light too much after all that profound darkness. Gently, I set her down. When her bare feet touch the coolness of the grass, a look of wonder steals across her pale face. She peeks out from between her fingers.

Hearing our scuffle in the grass, Distracter turns around and springs to his feet. When his eyes fall on the girl, the ever-present sadness on his face disappears into disbelief and sudden joy. I look down at the girl again as she takes a few hesitant steps. Slowly, she drops her hands from her eyes and turns in a circle, taking it all in. I’m mesmerized by her look of dawning wonder.

We are in my favorite place, my alpine meadow, with golden sunshine, blue skies, beautiful flowers, gentle breezes, singing birds, and soft grass. There’s so much gentle beauty here it always calms my soul. I watch that same beauty fall gently on the girl’s spirit. She takes another step, and then I hear it, a little giggle. “The grass tickles!”

I smile. “It does, doesn’t it?” I sit down and pull off my shoes and socks, wiggling bare toes in the soft grass. The little girl stretches her arms out slowly towards the sun. How warm it is compared to the shivering dampness of that hole in the ground she just left! A butterfly floats past her head. When she tries to catch it, it flits away, just out of reach. Distracter plops down beside me, and together, we watch her explore our meadow.

She rolls in the grass and smells the flowers. In another moment, she picks one and tucks it into a braid of her hair. It is as if she is experiencing the world for the first time. In a sense, she is. She had been down in that cave for so long she no longer remembered the warmth of the sun, the singing of the birds, the beauty of the flowers, or the blue of the sky. Her world had shrunk down to a two-foot square box. She had lost all memory of the world as it was meant to be.

Distracter is watching her, all sadness gone, a look of delight on his face. He turns towards me. “You freed her.”

“Yes,” I said simply. “She doesn’t have to be in that box anymore.”

“I didn’t know you could go back and free her. I didn’t know what to do. She was so trapped, and I was so scared she’d give up all hope. I couldn’t let that happen. She had to survive. If she had had false hope, if she had struggled and fought and dreamed of better things and tried to get out, she would have lost her spirit eventually. Escape from that box was impossible. I couldn’t let her lose her spirit.”

“So you distracted me from trying to accomplish my dreams because they were all impossible? You were afraid I would lose my spirit if I reached for the stars and nothing happened.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Distracter. You did help her survive. Do you know what she did down there? She sang. She refused to let it destroy her. She sang to keep hope alive. You were the one who gave her the ability and the strength to survive that cave and that box so I could free her today. Thank you.”

Distracter looked at me for a moment, and then said simply, “You’re welcome, but I’d like to stop distracting you now. You’ve freed her, and in doing so, freed me. I don’t have to distract anyone anymore. We all have hope now. We aren’t trapped anymore. We can make dreams happen, and even if they don’t, you know how to handle the pain and disappointment. I want to be a Dreamer now along with you.”

“Of course. I still need you to help me reach for the stars and trust God for His good gifts, whether He makes my dreams come true or changes them to better fit His purposes for me.”

“If he’s Dreamer, then who am I?” The little girl’s voice startles both of us. We were too engaged in our discussion to notice she had circled around behind us. I smile and hold out my arm. She sits down beside me, pulling my arm across her shoulders and leaning contentedly against my side. “I’m not trapped anymore, so I think I’m going to call myself Freedom,” she declares stoutly.

“I think that’s a really good name,” I tell her. We sit quietly, at peace, soaking up the sunshine. Freedom lays her head on my lap, and her eyes droop shut. It’ll take her a while to heal, but before long, she will be running full tilt across our alpine meadow just to feel the wind in her face. Soon enough, she will be singing again, this time with lurking mischief dancing in her eyes. I lift my face to the sun and smile. “Thank you, God, for Freedom.”

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