Brian Pennie

How To Heal Your Inner Child

Life may have given you scars, but you don’t have to live with the trauma

Life may have given you scars, but you don’t have to live with the trauma

I was only five weeks old when my mother realised that there was something seriously wrong. I wouldn’t stop vomiting, but it was the relentless nature of my crying that really troubled her. She brought me to the hospital, but the doctors told her there was nothing to be concerned about. “It’s only colic,” they said.

Several hospital visits later, they insisted that there was still nothing wrong; but I continued to vomit, and my body was getting weaker by the day. That’s when things got serious. I would drink my bottle, throw up, and then my body would go floppy and limp. Even my cries sounded sick, turning to frail, feeble whimpers as the hours passed.

On my final visit to the hospital, my mother told the nurses that my nappy (i.e. diaper) had been bone dry for several days. That’s when alarms bells went off. The nurses snatched me from my mother’s arms and weighed me immediately. I was less than four pounds — half my birth weight — and the soft spot on my head had sunk deep into my skull.

It turned out I had a condition known as intestinal malrotation. In layman’s terms, my guts were twisted, and my body was starved of nutrients. The doctors quickly realised they had made a huge mistake and rushed me to theatre for emergency surgery. My fight for survival had truly begun.

Operated on without an anaesthetic — it was the medical practice for infants at the time — I survived the operation, but due to several complications, and the absence of pain medication — another infant practice back then — I spent the first 18-months of my life screaming in agony.

From a basic learning perspective, I was programmed to view the world as a terrifying and painful place, priming me for a life of anxiety.

Healing Your Inner Child

Driven by childhood trauma, and a bid to escape anxiety, I finally found my anaesthetic in the shape of heroin. I was 17 years old, and by the time I was 20, I was a full-blown addict.

I spent the next 15 years chronically addicted to heroin, but I was lucky. Pounded into submission by the most painful night of my life, I was forced to look at the world from a completely new perspective. That was in October 2013, and I’ve since learned how to live free from the pain from my past.

Meditation has provided the foundations for my recovery, but inner child work is how I’ve learned to deal with childhood trauma. To do this, I visualise painful events from the past, but I also visualise my current self, who soothes the distressed child who couldn’t escape his pain.

A persistent experience from my childhood scarred me more than others. I was seven years old when it started, and it continued for many years. My parents were caring, but they were also alcoholics. They always drove home drunk, and I vividly remember waiting by my bedroom window, hoping that they would get home safely.

There was a big field in front of my house, so I could see all the cars as they came into the estate. As I watched from my bedroom window, my hopes would build with every passing car. ‘This could be them now,’ I’d think.

As my hopes built up, so did the pressure in my chest. But as I learned over the years, hundreds of cars passed each night, and my hopes would be blown away in an instant. As each car passed, I would lie down in my bed, cursing my parents for putting me through this. I’d convince myself that I didn’t care and try to go to sleep, but it was hopeless. As soon as I heard another car engine, I’d jump back up to the window.

I am no longer scarred by this memory. I now visualise my 7-year old self waiting for his parents to come home. My current self then walks into the bedroom, and with the orange streetlights flickering through the rain-speckled window, I watch him from behind. He looks lost, peering into the night through the netted curtains in his bedroom.

The floorboards creak beneath me as I walk towards him, but he doesn’t look around. When I get to the window, I can see he is upset, so I decide to join him, and we gaze into the night together.

He doesn’t acknowledge me at first, but when I put my hand on his, he looks up. I reach out and hug him tightly. He squeezes back, and we both feel a sense of release.

I relive this event often — not to punish myself, but to heal my inner-child, the one who was overwhelmed by the trauma in his life. By showing strength now, and telling my younger self, ‘Everything is okay, I’ll look after you,’ incredible healing takes place. We carry much of our pain in our bodies, and this practice helps me to soften my childhood anguish.

Feeling Your Pain

I practice inner child work with many painful events from my life, especially the ones that fed my anxiety. My infant self — operated on without an anaesthetic — is the one who needs it most. I used to be blind to this. I used to think of him as an organism, which was part of the detachment I created to distance myself from the pain.

Thanks to my friend and psychologist Allison Keating, I was able to make sense of my earliest trauma, the one that set the tone for a life of anxiety. My infant self never stopped looking for that anaesthetic, and when I was seventeen years old, I found it in the form of heroin. Heroin provided the numbness I craved since that operation, and it cut me off from my pain. But it did more than that. It cut me off from my feelings, and from the people around me, as I disconnected myself from life.

Just like the child at the window, I sometimes sit with my infant self, cradling him in my arms. I can feel his pain. I can feel how he squirms, trying to avoid the sensations in his body. But I stay with him, helping him to accept these feelings, holding him and sharing his pain.

I’m strong now. I’m comfortable in my own skin. I no longer need heroin to escape reality. And when I sit with this defenceless baby, I let him know everything is going to be okay.

Take Away Message

Life may have given you scars, but you don’t have to live with the trauma. Instead of avoiding your childhood anguish, you can visualise your younger self — the one who experienced pain — and lean towards it. By showing strength now, and sharing your childhood pain, amazing healing takes place.

A word of warning, however. I do this ever so gently, and I’d advise anyone else to do the same. If you have suffered from extreme trauma or abuse, I would advise you to seek professional guidance, as leaning towards your trauma too quickly can also have a negative effect.

You can see my scars and how I healed them in the images below.


My memoir is about my experiences before and after addiction. The narrative above is an extract from that book, Bonus Time: A true story of surviving the worst and discovering the magic of every moment. You can order a copy here.

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Brian Pennie