Contributed by Kelley Cathie, LSW, Founder of Playfully Me Child & Family Play Therapy
TW: eating disorders, family trauma
I was sixteen when I was first diagnosed with anorexia.
It had been going on for years. No one had noticed until my weight dropped 90 pounds and my clothes (that once fit) were falling off me. I had done everything I possibly could to try and control the chaos around and inside of me for so long. It got to the point where I could no longer cover up how much I was struggling...
My story begins at six when my father lost his mother to cancer. He didn't know that the woman who had birthed him was dying because his distant father didn't tell him. When my father got home from Michigan on the trip to visit his mother, he walked through the front door, and as a child, I couldn’t make sense of how he was still physically present but so starkly emotionally absent.
As a six-year-old little girl, I remember thinking to myself “where did my dad go?”
Twenty-two years later, I am a Child Therapist. Now, as a therapist, I can understand that complex grief took my father from me.
After that moment of loss, a series of traumas spiraled through my family in the next 10 years. Things were crumbling so much that the only way I could control them was starving myself. I became the container of my family's pain.
For years, I spent time in and out of treatment. In small moments, I realized that living is a choice. I wanted to stop slowly killing myself. I realized through small moments of compassion that I wanted to choose to be happy.
I spent the next years discovering how to heal.
In those years, I decided to become a therapist. I stumbled upon an internship in graduate school in Play Therapy. The first moment I sat in front of a child in session, they played. I have never felt so aligned and in my body in my life. I knew that I had found my life's work. And, happiness I had been working so hard to create was manifesting in front of me.
In my work and in my life, I have become the person I needed at six years old when my family first started crumbling. Now, I sit in front of families and confidently tell them there is no life experience that can happen to you that can’t be healed. I can say it with confidence because of the life I created from my pain in front of me. If I never needed a therapist at six, I would've never become her.
Just like me, we all have an inner child who needs us to love them in ways that we couldn't be loved as children...
Here are some steps you can take to begin being curious about what the child inside of you may need:
Take out old pictures and begin looking at your child self. Connect your adult heart with your little heart energetically. What do they need from you? How do they need you to love them? Tell them you love them so deeply.
Close your eyes and envision your child self. How were they treated by your parents? How did you parents respond to your emotions? How do you, as an adult self, want to respond to your child self’s emotions?
Take time to sit a do simple, childlike things. Go for a walk and explore. Paint on a large canvas. Play in ways that you feel free. How does your inner child feel? Are they resistant? Who is telling them that it’s not okay to just be?
Begin here and start diving into what your inner child may want to tell you and what your inner child needs from you.
Kellie Cathey, LSW is a Child & Family Therapist and Owner of Playfully Me Child & Family Play Therapy. Her practice offers a variety of services to help you and your child thrive in the world. Each service is crafted around what you need, what your family needs and what our community needs to raise happy, resilient children. Kellie's passion is helping families create more happiness in their home by discovering how to connect more deeply, set kind and firm limits, and become more in touch with each person's needs.
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