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Visiting the Girl

Spiritual Memoir

One Person Can Heal Whole Family Cycles of Abuse and Neglect

By Aoife Valley

Smashwords Edition

Copyright Aoife Valley 2017


This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

May all children,

Past, present and future,

Be happy, safe and free.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 The Holly Tree

Chapter 2 The Stairs

Chapter 3 Infirmary

Chapter 4 Black Eyeliner

Chapter 5 Paisley Blouse

Chapter 6 Pink Sunset

Chapter 7 Seaweed

Chapter 8 Effortlessness




For so many years I have dreamt of this book, yet had no idea how it would take shape. I couldn't see how it would be possible to craft something beautiful from the cinders of my trauma-filled childhood.

One birthday a few years ago, I received three lovely, lined, notebooks from three very different friends. They had each chosen to buy me, an artist, an empty book for words. One by one, I began filling these books with gardening, beekeeping, and teaching notes, and felt guilty that this long-imagined memoir wasn't finding its way into their pages.

Then one day after a meditation one-to-one, a client took from her bag a small, thick book, and offered it to me. On the cover was a soft painting of a pair of gold-star encrusted high heels in pastel shades. It was another lined notebook. The woman said that although she liked the book, she felt it was meant to be given to me.

I took it home and it sat by my bed for a few months. It was so pretty I knew that the first words written in it would have to be meaningful, so I took my time.

One Saturday morning I brought the notebook and a pen into my meditation room and sat it down beside me. I began my morning meditation as usual, and at the end of it a memory came to mind. It was a Saturday morning in my first year of primary school, and the day after the first attack by my father.

I had faced the events of the Friday many times over the years, yet had given the aftermath days of Saturday and Sunday little attention. On this particular Saturday morning the idea came to me to actually go and visit myself as I was back then, in my imagination, and see what happened.

There are many variations of this process in spiritual, shamanic and religious traditions. It is known as 'Active Imagination' or 'Soul Retrieval', and was used by many of the Christian Mystics.

I had been studying trauma recovery based on the understanding of the fight/flight/freeze mechanism, and how it gets stuck on overdrive when trauma isn't fully processed. I read that it was possible to release this stuckness by revisiting traumatic memories and rewriting them.

I was afraid to do this, but a yearning deep inside me knew that this 'visiting' was what was called for, in order for the next layer of my healing to occur.

In the tradition of Western Buddhist meditation I was trained in 'imagination' was viewed as something untrustworthy. The teaching was delivered within the reductionist scientific view that if you can't measure it, or see it, it isn't happening.

We were taught to see things as they were, in each present moment, without adding anything, or taking anything away. Reality itself was the only thing to trust; 'this moment' the only thing worth paying attention to. Imaginings or memories were seen as old 'rubbish' to simply feel and release.

This clear-sighted awareness had healed me enormously and brought great stability to my life. I valued it dearly, yet that morning something bigger was calling me to engage my imagination. So, that is what I did.

Here is what I wrote in the notebook after the encounter:

Finally she will let me hold her. I gather her up in my arms and she holds on to me like a baby who has lost her mother. Her legs to one side, closed, and her battered body damp and cold.

I never wondered why she would just lie there. I never tried to move her. Maybe I knew the time hadn't come yet.

It seems a miracle now, to know she trusts me. She is here in my lap weeping, utterly lost. I hold her like a chair, like a mother. I hold her like I always wanted to be held, utterly supported, completely safe.

There was an ease and beauty to what had happened. To trust my imaginative process made me feel more whole, and fleshed out an ancient inner knowing that I had lost in my years in Western Buddhism. I still meditated every single day, and expect to for the rest of my life, but I also began 'visiting the girl' when I needed to.

It soon became clear that this process would make for a poetic and healing framework in which to share my story.

Eight different memories arose for the purposes of this book. I begin each chapter by visiting the girl or woman I was, both physically and emotionally. I then move on to memoir, and I end the chapter with another visit.

In the visits I allowed the healing process to arise naturally, and simply documented it. There was no force or control. I knew from experience that, in an atmosphere of safety, and kind, alert, awareness, my body/mind/soul will always heal itself.

For the memoir sections, I wanted to write about my history in a way that focussed on me as the child, teenager and woman – on my very real human hopes, dreams, sensitivities, emotions and physical experiences.

So often, and understandably, accounts of abuse and trauma are filled with fear and horror of the perpetrator. I wondered was it possible to write about what happened to me in a way that was real, yet at the same time honoured my individual soul-life, which was poetic, noble and heroic.

Ultimately, I wanted to create a narrative that would use the lessons I learned in breaking a family cycle of abuse and neglect to lessen our collective fear, and bring greater understanding and peace into the world.

This is what I hope I have done. This book contains my truth, and it is my sincere hope that it will support the reader in embracing their own truth.

Chapter 1 - THE HOLLY TREE

0 - 9

One day I choose to visit the girl on Saturday morning in her room. What happened on the Friday and Monday had gone through my mind for decades, but I couldn't bear to remember what had happened on the Saturday and Sunday. Those two days were a blank.

I enter her room and see a motionless, tiny little body in a bed, intermittently crying, sleeping and staring at the wall. She doesn't move an inch, but I know she is glad I am there. I sit by her and say, 'I am here, darling. I am here for you'.

I am astonished that she will let me be here. I always thought she would be so afraid of me it would make matters worse, but she has been waiting for me, waiting for this meeting.

Finally she will let me hold her. I gather her up in my arms and she holds on to me like a baby who has lost her mother.

It seems a miracle now, to know she trusts me. She is here in my lap weeping, utterly lost.

I hold her like a chair, like a mother. I hold her like I always wanted to be held - utterly supported, completely safe.

'I am here now', I say. 'I'm never going to leave you. Everything is going to be OK.'

She hugs and hugs me, and I mother her effusively, this little girl with no mother to turn to for solace. I hug and hug her. I want her to know that she is safe.

She cries, I hold. I am present. I don't try to fix anything, or explain her feelings away. I never mention what has happened. I stay in the here and now and feel with her.

I had only just started primary school when he kept me home one Friday. His girlfriend had gone off to have her baby and he said we needed father and daughter time. We stayed in my bedroom and played all games he liked. It was nice to have him all to myself. I adored him, and with no mother around, he had become my whole world. I wanted to make him happy.

He could be very funny and make us all laugh, but he could also be very scary sometimes, just out of the blue. It was very confusing. He always took everything too far. When he tickled me it was funny for a little while, then he kept going until it got really sore. He didn't like it when I told him to stop. It made him angry, so I swallowed my sore and let him stop when he was ready.

That Friday I started to get hot and feel sick. It had gone on too long, and he was getting annoyed with me. I felt like I was going to vomit, so I had to say, 'stop'. He stood up and turned his face away, and when he turned back it was black and red mixed together, like he had covered himself in boot polish. I was terrified. I knew something very bad was about to happen.

He stabbed me over and over down there, and the pain was so bad I flashed out of my body, up to the corner by the door. I watched myself look like a ragdoll under his bulk. I was sure I was going to die; that I would be saying goodbye to that wee ragdoll girl down there. I had really liked her too.

I kept saying, over and over in my mind, My daddy is the devil. I knew from pictures what the devil looked like - red and black, with no kindness whatsoever. That was who he was.

Then it was Saturday, and I could hear my brothers asking about me in the landing. 'Aoife is sick, don't go near her', he said. I was bleeding, and in so much pain. I just lay there and waited for what was next. I was quiet and still.

I lay there all day Saturday and all day Sunday. He came in to check the bleeding until it stopped.

On Monday morning I was woken up for school. I went downstairs and he acted like nothing had happened. Standing in the kitchen I got a bowl of porridge. With the first spoonful I tasted sweetness and overwhelmingly wanted to burst out crying. I felt betrayed by that sweetness. I thought that everything had changed, but it hadn't really. An ache fell down my throat, chest, and into my belly. Nobody loves me, I thought. No mummy and no daddy.

The sweet porridge announced that the world went on, even though I felt like it had stopped. It said that I didn't really matter. God and the angels hadn't saved me. No one had saved me. I was all alone.

These attacks in my bedroom went on for over five years, until we went to live with my mother when I was nine years old. It happened most that first year, after his girlfriend came back with the new baby. Then it took on a pattern I tried every way I could think of to untangle myself from.

After an attack I was crushed for weeks. The physical pain was terrible. Walking the mile to school was the worst. My body was so heavy, and every step aggravated the swollen and bruised area between my legs. I was always lagging behind, a 'slowcoach'.

One day the boys found a hornets’ nest on the walkway up to school, and I had no interest in it whatsoever. I just put one foot in front of the other as I walked by.

The pain eased up after about a week, and I felt lighter and more like myself. Then I could play again, and run and skip carefully. A week after that I started to forget it, and just get on with life.

At some point I could look in the mirror again without feeling afraid. The mirror frightened me the most the first week because my face looked like someone I didn't know. It looked like my 'Tiny Tears' doll – hard and plastic. Then the face would distort as I watched it, with the forehead getting really big, or the chin going lopsided, or one eye getting really big. It was terrifying, so I decided to just stop looking at it.

In that first year we got school portrait photographs to take home. I sat in my bedroom looking at the photo of myself. When I looked very quickly at it, and then away, I looked like a normal girl with long ginger hair, a fringe, freckles and a pinafore. But when I looked for a long time that baby-teeth smile really irritated me. I looked so stupid. My belly stuck out and my stupid hair was in pigtails. I really hated her. She didn't distort. She stayed exactly the same. I spat at her, then immediately tried to wipe it away in case it got me in trouble.

As I wiped it the photo got scratched, and an orange colour came through from underneath. I couldn't help myself then, I started scratching and scratching, and more orange came through to replace the skin. I scratched until her face was gone, and only the hair and body were left. Then I hid it under the bed.

The next day he noticed it was missing and looked for it while I sat on the bed. When he saw what I had done to it, a sneering smile spread over his face. I knew that smile well. I vowed to never, ever hurt myself like that again, and to kill myself if I ever got to the point where that devil-smile came upon my face. He put the photo back under my bed, and I took it out later on and threw it in the fire downstairs.

A couple of weeks after the attack I tentatively looked in the mirror again to see if the distortion was still happening. When it didn't, I would begin to recognise myself – my freckles, my soft skin, the colour and shine of my hair, my nose, my teeth and tongue. I felt safe. I began to forget all about those dark things and just be my happy, normal self.

And just as I was feeling safe again, happy in my own skin, he would attack. Sometimes I saw it coming from the corner of my eye - out playing with the girls I would notice him standing at the window and have an uncomfortable feeling in my belly and shoulders. But the amnesia was so strong that each time it was a shock as brutal as the first.

School was a happy place for me when I had recovered. While I was still sore boys bullied me in the playground. When the strength came back into my arms and legs no one bothered bullying me, and everything went back to normal.

There was a boy at school who wasn't rough like the others. His name was Liam. The first time I noticed him was at break time, when I was standing against a building. He smiled at me, and my whole body felt light. His smile reminded me that I was loveable.

We didn't speak much the first years, just smiled at each other in the playground. Then we became friends. I loved everything about him - his face, his glasses and his brown hair. He was always so calm and friendly, and never pulled my ponytail or tripped me up. When we held hands the whole world was happy.

Just before we moved to my mother's house he invited me over to meet his mother and grandfather. They were calm too. With them I felt safe, and like a whole new world was opening up. In his house, where everyone spoke to each other slowly, with softness, and big open eyes, I felt appreciated for the first time. There were silences, when I could hear the clock ticking or the wind outside. They asked me questions and listened to what I said. With them I was important.

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