Looking at pictures of when my daughter was young can still be really difficult for me. I’ll feel a shortness of breath, and a pain right at my heart, as though it’s shattering. My heartbeat will quicken, my mind starts chattering, and sometimes it feels like the ground beneath me is unsteady.
I’ll be looking at a photograph that will conjure up such sweet and beautiful memories - like when we were at the beach, or of her proudly standing next to her science project, or her annual school photos. And I’ll see this shy little girl who always found new situations and environments, like starting kindergarten, to be a little disconcerting, and a person whose quietness masks her incredible alertness and curiosity of the world around her. I’ll see my child with this phenomenal gift for learning, an insatiable appetite for reading, a love of cute, furry animals, and a tender heart that never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings. My little girl with the sweet laugh who loved our Friday night pizza and movie ritual, who has a propensity for perfection, and an artist flair about her!
And then, in that same instant, I see a little girl who must have been frightened. Confused. Lonely. A child who was asked to carry and keep a dark and terrible secret. A child who was trying to protect her family while being betrayed by a person most kids get to spend their lives loving and trusting. An innocent life whose path was thrown onto a completely different course than the one I, or any mother, hopes for their child, and a very different course than the one I believed she was on.
It is in these moments I realize how our perspectives of her childhood, hers and mine, are so incredibly, vastly, and sadly different. What I thought she was learning, thinking, feeling, and experiencing in life was nowhere near her reality. The life I truly believed she was living was not the whole picture and far from anything I could have ever imagined. I grieve for that wounded child and the child that I "lost".
With this revelation I understand that I need to build a bridge back to my daughter. The abuse took her on a detour. I needed to find her, catch up to her, and join her on her journey, where she is — not where I thought she was. And perhaps even just as importantly, not the one I want her to be on (see ”Holding Space” blog).
Building a bridge means re-connecting with her. It means rebuilding trust. It means rebuilding safety. It means rebuilding honesty and communication. It means building a bridge back to our family for her where she feels her worthiness and our togetherness. Where she feels supported, protected, and above all, loved. Loved for exactly who she is. These were all the things I strove to give to her while she was growing up and these are the things I know she deserves.
On this bridge-building journey, like any other "project", there are joyful surprises and advancements as well as setbacks. Sometimes it is difficult. Or frustrating. The bridge construction doesn’t always go the way I want it to go, or on the timeline I’d prefer. But the constant is this: every single day, I am 100% committed because she means the world to me and there is nothing that will stand in my way from being there and continuously building that bridge back to her.