When I was a child, knocks on the door from neighborhood friends were often followed by the expected “Do you want to come out and play?” Now, as an adult, I do the same, except that the door stands between me and my inner child. Because of life-endured trauma and distrust, I wonder how frequently it answers.
What I do know is that it has posed a dual dilemma for me. First and foremost, I questioned what “play” can be considered, when I was shamed and suppressed for attempting to have it, at least in the presence of my father. Secondly, I wondered if this enjoyment-based activity can be a healthy, adult manifestation or is it really representative of my age-arrested inner child, acting in ways that it knew before that repression occurred, as it now tries to finish out what it was impeded from doing?
My father was often like the mean Miss Hannigan nanny overseeing the orphanage in the movie Annie, who would enter a room and ask, “Do I hear happiness?” Not that he ever verbally expressed this sentiment: he did not have to. Denied happiness himself and retriggered by any loud noise or even laughter, he wore an invisible sign that said “Happiness is not welcomed here.” Trying, nevertheless, to achieve it in his presence was like swimming against the current in a raging river and would only have resulted in his own explosive rage. He could not tolerate it.
How can you have fun while walking on egg shells and fearing the crack of a single one? Happiness was thus a risk: do you dare attempt it and then risk the harm that would serve as your punishment for doing so? Or do you avoid it just to remain safe? How many of those friends who queried if I wished to come out and play endured similar conflicts in their own home-of-origins? I doubt that any of them did.
Of course, choosing the “safer” option, you also chose negative emotions and the necessary denials that otherwise impacted your development.
Any real play was always in his absence. Indeed, the moment he closed the door and left for work, I breathed a sigh and let my own dam on positive energy burst, as if I were a starving person who gouged himself on an all-you-can-eat buffet until he later returned. I can be myself again, I used to think.
There are several prerequisites to fun, joy, humor, and happiness. You must first grieve your losses-the most major of which, ironically, was your entire childhood– before you can re-embrace your feelings and attain any degree of therapeutic recovery. The prerequisite for fun is spontaneity and the perquisite for it is safety.
“The pain of mourning and grief,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (World Service Organization, 2006, p. 83), “is balanced by being able, once again, to fully love and care for someone and to freely experience joy in life.”
Having been thrust into darkness for so long, you may wonder exactly what “joy” is. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the opposite of darkness, or light.
“A sense of integration of the survival traits/common behaviors,” is the first of many definitions the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 163) provides for joy, along with “coming out of the dark night of the soul with sureness of foot. Divided self reunited. Inner peace. Recognizing the true self within. Knowing you can trust yourself. Seeing light in self and others. Energy and warmth throughout the body.”
Discerning the commonality between you and others, or the light by which you are linked, enables you to realize what you intrinsically are without the bodily manifestation to which you are temporarily appendaged, connecting you at the core with both each other and the common Source who created you.
“When we let others know about our feelings, we connect with people on a spiritual and equal level instead of a dependent and manipulative one,” according to the textbook (p. 186).
Fun first requires that you break your ties with your hitherto unresolved past and the negative emotions associated with it so that, instead of being griped and controlled by reactions, you can flow from present-time spontaneity.
Locked within, of course, is the inner child who chose safety over satisfaction at a very early age and only after the need for it has been removed can you entice it to re-emerge.
“Mutual acceptance allows the child to see that the ability to trust is damaged, but not broken and can be restored by gently and slowly emerging from the protective prison of isolation,” according to the Adult Children of Alcoholics textbook (p. 362). “The adult becomes aware of the spirit of joy that inhabits every child and recognizes the need for openness and spontaneity in feeling completely alive.”
“Adult children who have experienced their inner child describe an inner being that is joyful and playful,” it also states (p. 303). “There is a feeling of lightness and great optimism when the inner child is active in one’s life. There is trust, spontaneity, and warmth.”
Although my father passed away 13 years ago, that wall between happiness and myself that he erected in me and questioned if fun was not a crime or altogether sin still stood, but recovery has progressively dismantled it
Play, today, depends upon risking, reaching, becoming, being, viewing people as friends, not threats, and flowing from my authentic self and not the false one I was forced to create to replace it-in other words, transforming myself from a human doing back into a human being who is not judged for my capabilities or productivity, but is instead esteemed for my intrinsic value and worth.
I aspire to someday achieve the late Dr. Wayne Dyer’s philosophy, which stated, “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”
The more I am restored, the higher I rise, and the higher I rise, the more I realize that that state is natural happiness.