“The whole point,” Lauren says, “is that the degree of harmony, of inner peace that we feel in the day-to-day is directly related to the harmony, or lack of harmony, between our parts."
Once upon a time, on an early spring day in North Texas, I call upon my fairy godmother, Lauren, for the first time in well over a year.
I’m standing at her office door, the master of my land, ready to summon the dragons, positive that I have the right weapons to defeat them, and confident that her magic will provide more protection.
Turns out, while I’ve been spending all of that time avoiding seeing her, she has learned some new magic called Parts Work.
She tells me this as I’m taking my favorite marshmallow chenille blanket from her big armchair and throwing it over myself as I sit down in my spot on the worn leather couch in front of her.
“What’s Parts Work?” I ask.
“You know when you can’t make a decision because you ‘feel torn’? Or when you say something about ‘a part of me’ feeling this way or that way about something?”
“Uh huh,” I say.
“Well, the theory behind Parts Work is that we all have multiple selves inside of us, each with their own identity, some masculine, some feminine, all with different perspectives, needs, and appearances. We develop them over time in order to cope with our internal and external world.”
“Like multiple personalities?” I ask.
“Yes, but not like multiple personality disorder, if that’s what you mean, and it’s actually called dissociative identity disorder now because in those who have it, their internal identities, or parts, become dissociated from one another and act out in the real world in a way that one isn’t aware of the other, nor does it remember doing things that another part did.
In Parts Work, healthy individuals who choose to work at it can become aware of and connect to all of their parts.”
I sense the inside of me calm, as if summoned to do the work we’re here to do.
It’s like she’s speaking in a language that I can understand with all of me.
“Let’s take your struggle with childhood shame, for example,” she continues. “Compassion neutralizes shame in the brain. If you can acknowledge your inner child’s suffering, show her that you care, that you love her, you can give her the validation that was missing to begin with. You can heal that part of you.”
Just then, I see her clearly with my mind’s eye.
Red and white stripy Winnie the Pooh dress.
Long brown, pin straight hair, knotted from days of playing outside.
I’m sitting in my own lap.
Tears dried on my face, cracking my cheeks as I smile, listening as if Lauren is reading the greatest bedtime story of all time.
“The whole point,” Lauren says, “is that the degree of harmony, of inner peace that we feel in the day-to-day is directly related to the harmony, or lack of harmony, between our parts.
The goal is to discern and honor each part while keeping self in leadership.
The self is wise and confident.
When she is present, there is inner and outer peace.”
When she says, ‘the self is wise and confident,’ chills move up and down my spine and out of a weird place behind my ears.
For the next eight months I get to know every part of me.
Lauren encourages me to name my parts and to record what they look like, what they’re doing, and to remain non-judgmental while I do it, so I do.
She teaches me some common questions to ask them to ease the process of honoring them: How old are you?
Do you know how old I am?
What do you need?
Is there a different role that you’d rather fulfill in my life?
Then I bring them up to speed on my external world if they don't know what’s going on.
I do most of my best work at home at night before bed, meditating with my journal.
I meet Baby Boy, Artist, Explorer, Warrior, Manager, Firefighter, Angry Bull, Sexy Girl, Critic, Ornery Teen, Shame the Giant, and Little Colleen again.
I build their home in my mind, a tree house on the beach.
It's the happy place I’ve seen in my dreams my entire life.
It becomes so vivid that I can see the artwork on the walls and smell the fresh fruits and vegetables and homemade bread on the dining room table.
There are rooms for each part, tailor made to their needs.
I hear the bamboo of the forest outside to the east and see the indigo skies through the thatched windows that make up 180 degrees of the view from the top of the stairs as we enter the house.
I connect further with my inner voice, my true self, and more and more balance permeates every part of my life.
Until one day, when things get scary.
It’s almost Christmas.
I close my eyes to check in with my parts like I always do in my nighttime routine, when I see a dark figure on the thatched ceiling.
It’s black and furry and it’s turned away from me.
My heart starts to race just like it did in St. Augustine when the dark figure was in my room. Just like it did when I almost told Lauren about my two friends in the Navy that assaulted me.
I take a deep breath and do just like I’ve practiced so many times.
I remain confident, without judgment.
I affirm that this is just another part of me that I need to honor and empathize with to heal.
The demon, its body motionless, whips its head around, jaws open showing a mouthful of fangs, and fixes its green, evil eyes on mine. I fight the desire to open my eyes.
What do you need? I ask.
Let go of the darkness you are carrying, the demon answers.
It’s time for my weekly session with Lauren.
The “protective” part of me, Firefighter, wants me to cancel my appointment, because in an effort to save me from experiencing too much emotion, he often causes more pain by sabotaging my external life.
I know this now, so when I feel him getting worked up, I close my eyes and communicate with him.
I assure him that this is what we need to do for lasting peace and remind him that he feels better when he dances so that he takes off his firefighting gear and turns on 80’s Michael Jackson to dance to in the studio I built onto the tree house for him.
I arrive for my next session with Lauren, and cloak myself in chenille, taking my seat on the worn leather couch in front of her before I start talking.
I tell her what happened when the counselor I saw when I was twelve told Mom about my suicidal thoughts:
“I hurt Mom so badly that I’ve lied about it ever since.
I truly believe it’s common to think about taking that emergency exit, it’s just that no one talks about it because we’ve made it impossible to talk about it.”
The temperature of my blood becomes hotter, not hot-blooded in an angry sort of way, but in a way that gives me pause, that makes it clear to me that I’m in the right place, at the right time, doing what I’m meant to do, to fulfill some greater purpose that I still don’t understand.
“Although I've considered suicide,” I say, “I would never take my own life now because I believe the spirit does not die by suicide and will continue to suffer the same pain in its next life. I want to make peace in this life. I don’t want to feel shame for the thoughts. I don’t want anyone else to feel shame for having those thoughts. If it wasn’t shameful, more people would talk about it and it would probably save lives, right? It’s just an overactive part that needs to be heard, to be healed, right?” I ask.
“Parts Work views it that way,” Lauren says.
“I met that part.
The part who wants to die.
It’s a demonic, black-cat-like creature and it’s savage.
It’s been exiled for a long time.
I asked it what it needs, like you taught me.”
“And what did it say?” Lauren asks.
“It told me to let go of the darkness I’ve been carrying.”
“What does that mean to you?” She asks.
“Before I stopped coming to see you last year, do you remember what I told you?”
“Yes. You think you may have been raped.”
It’s the first time I’m hearing this word.
There’s a sharp tightness somewhere between my chest and my stomach.
My breath is shallow.
Shame the Giant, who is so big I can normally only see up to his knees, is throwing a tantrum, rolling around on the floor of the tree house like a child throwing a fit.
He holds onto the demon like a teddy bear he clings to for comfort, protecting the demon, protecting himself like parts often protect other parts when the self seeks change they’re not comfortable with.
Shame knows that if the rape comes into the light, that I may no longer need him in the role he’s so used to filling.
“I’m ready to talk about it,” I say, and the tightness vanishes.
Little Colleen is in my lap again, soothing herself with her thumb.
I tell her about Wil and Tim.
About how we were so close, and that I felt so safe with them.
About how my drinking was so out of control I couldn’t see it, and that I took the blame for drinking too much that night.
I tell her about how I stood up in front of the class of boys and told them to forget about it, then I locked it all away.
I tell her how it’s been haunting me more and more since I left the Navy, and then I tell her that the flashbacks have become unbearable.
It isn’t easy to talk about.
I am fighting myself the entire time.
I have to calm Firefighter with his music over and over again until the truth leaves my lips and when it does—
“I. Was. Raped.”
The demon turns into a fluffy black, purring kitten, and all of my parts gather around to dote on it.
I can breathe again.
Before I said those words, before I faced the truth, I was drowning, gasping for air, filling my lungs with a million pounds of pressure pushing into and out of every part of me, into and out of every part of my life.
I’d gotten so used to that feeling, that tightness, that I forgot it was there until now, when with those words, it’s gone.
I am free.
“A lot of times with trauma,” Lauren says, “we repress it because we need to in order to survive. Then, when we feel safe to process it, it comes back.
That’s why it started showing itself to you after you left the Navy.”
I leave Lauren’s office.
The world is different outside, lighter.
The air is thick and sweet and filled with diamond glitter that follows me all of the way home.
On the inside my parts are at peace, completely at peace for the first time ever.
I see them holding hands, standing in a circle.
The harmony I felt in Ireland has finally made its way to Texas.
It’s one of my last bedtimes before the new year.
I close my eyes to check in with my parts and there’s stillness before I hear the voice.
It’s time to go back.
The next morning, I drive to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, the same chapel that called to me every time I pass it.
This time, I pull in and get out of my car.
I walk into the church, enveloped in glitter.
The sunlight pushes through the stained glass surrounding me, coloring the floor of the sanctuary.
I breathe deeply, admiring His light before tingles start in my arms and move through my legs.
In this pure nothingness is everything.
I feel being-less and completely free.
The vicar approaches me, diamonds falling around him as he moves toward me draped in purple.
“Do you have some time, Father?” I ask.
“Yes of course. I’m Father David,” he says, and leads me to a confessional.
When he walks around the curtain, I notice that it’s a much bigger room than I’ve seen in any church for any confession. It’s completely full of radiant, diamond light.
“May I sit with you over there?” I point around the back of the curtain where he is going to sit, “or do I have to kneel on this side?” I point at the squatty bench like the ones that Little Colleen used to kneel and play on during mass every Sunday.
“You can sit over here,” he says, and pulls a chair in front of his.
We take our seats in front of one another, nearly touching from knee to knee in a closeness that comforts me.
“Before we begin, I ask you to remember that this isn’t about you. This is about God.”
“Yes, Father.” I say.
I close my eyes to connect before I open them into the glitter.
“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It's been 25 years since my last confession.”
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