This blog was written weeks ago and I decided not to post it – my sense is that my emotions were high and I decided to press pause and just be with them rather than do anything with them.
It is interesting that I not only gave it a title (which is now very apt) but also didn’t delete it. Coming back to it today, I thought it had some important content that maybe was worth sharing. See what you think...
THE ONE I ABANDONED
September 11th, 2021 - It has been 20 years since 9/11 and I noticed my not wanting to engage with the media coverage but rather quietly reflect on the impact this event had on the wider world and to me personally.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I had taken my two-year-old child to play at a local adventure play centre. I don’t remember much about that but imagine it would have been a fun and carefree time. On returning to my car, I switched on the radio to hear a playlist that was sombre and some confusing explanation as to the reason, which made little sense and set my nerves on edge. When I arrived home, I switched on the TV to see the images and then began to witness the horror unfolding. I am conscious that the first thing I wanted to do was telephone my mum. It was more than wanting to tell her that the restaurant we had visited some years earlier on the 107th Floor of the North Tower was now destroyed; it was my inner child feeling terrified and needing reassurance. My mum’s voice conveying that she was seeing what I was seeing and sharing the feeling of horror somehow helped.
When threatened our instinct is to seek social support, gravitating towards those who we feel are sharing our plight. The comfort felt from the “we’re all in this together” during the pandemic taps into this innate need to know we are not alone in our suffering. In attachment theory, we see the infant looking to their caregiver at times of distress, in need of a response that acknowledges their experience. A well attuned caregiver will mirror the infants experience with empathic facial expressions that clearly communicates, “I see you” and “aw, yes, this is hard, isn’t it?!” This mirroring provides the psycho-feedback important so that the infant can organise and understand both their internal and their external world. The caregiver’s calming tone of voice and soothing touch builds up the infant’s ability to eventually attend to their own needs, to soothe and calm themselves.
I reflected on how my own little toddler had experienced 9/11 as an innocent two-year-old, still bubbling from the fun of the play centre. Did they pick up on my distress despite my efforts to hide it? Did I unknowingly abandon their needs to attend to my own inner child? Was there confusion about how the mood of the day suddenly darkened without explanation? Did that event and the impact it had on the world lay a foundation of fear that helped shaped their nervous system and that of their peers?
My child is now a young adult and I encourage reflection of early life experiences. I share my memories so that they can make sense of and understand their embodied memories. Pre-verbal, embodied memories shape nervous systems - they are often what triggers strong emotions in the here and now. If we are relating to others from a position of an angry, frightened, or hurt inner child, we are unlikely to be relating in ways that are helpful. It takes practice to notice what comes up in different situations, to pause, reflect and respond appropriately.
So, this 9/11 anniversary weekend I noticed that eighteen months of living through a worldwide pandemic still had my nervous system in a state of fight/flight that did not need heightening further. My inner child was again looking for acknowledgement of their fear and looking towards the adult me to soothe and calm them. I noticed that my instinct was to be with a friend who would ground me firmly in 2021. I noticed a need to sit quietly, enjoy the peace and calm and be thankful for it. I thought about those who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones and I recognised that I couldn’t do any more than that, and that was enough. But most of all, I turned to my inner child and to my own child and told them that I see what they see and can understand what they feel so they know that they’re not alone in their experience.