One of my earliest memories is from a day when I was four years old and I found a dime in my back yard. A dime in those days was a lot of money; it could buy ten pieces of candy. In my excitement, I shouted my good news, at which point my older brother claimed the dime was his.
I probably chanted, “Finders keepers; losers weepers,” which was something we said to proclaim ownership of found items.
My brother was not easily dissuaded when he wanted something, though, and he came toward me to grab the dime, claiming, “Its mine.” And so I swallowed it. Yep, I just swallowed the dime to make sure my brother could not get it and I could keep it. (Not the smartest move, perhaps, but I was four.)
Twenty-four years later, I was in therapy, and when asked for my earliest memory, I shared this story.
My therapist said, “And you have been swallowing every painful incident ever since.”
His response was unexpected. I thought I had just been sharing an early memory. I had no idea of the significance of that encounter with my brother and the dime, but I could see that it was true.
Every bad thing that had happened to me had been submerged deep inside me, swallowed like the dime, to stop the pain of whatever painful thing was happening.
At twenty-eight, this was my first experience with therapy, and I had not previously examined much from my past, the relationships and events that had shaped me.
We did not go in for therapy in my family, preferring to believe that no one needed help or had any issues. Therapy was for sissies or “crazy” people, and we could be neither. We just kept moving forward, and my way of moving forward was to swallow everything bad in my life.
I suppose all this has resurfaced now because I have been thinking about resiliency and how resiliency has helped me survive the traumatic events of my life.
From therapy, I learned about what Carl Jung called our shadow side, that place inside where I had shoved every painful experience. At twenty-eight, I started to unpack that overstuffed bag, to look at what was there, and to see what I could learn from those experiences that could help me more forward with my life in a healthier way.
Even though my way of coping as a child was not particularly effective for mental health, it was effective for survival. And when I began to unpack what was stored in the darkness, I began to see myself as a survivor and to understand how all those events had shaped me into the person I had become.
Once I brought each event from my past into the light, I could see the lessons I had learned—how they taught me to be more understanding of what others had experienced and more accepting, and how they had made me more resilient.