Where the wild things are by Maurice Sendak is one of my favourite children’s books. As a child, I remember being scared of the things, but also being drawn to them. As an adult, I recognise the book as a brilliant glimpse into a child’s anger. Yesterday, I went and saw Spike Jonze’s cinematic interpretation of the book, and was amazed at how much it affected me. As a generalisation, I think the movie would ring true for many survivors of childhood abuse. Sitting in the theatre witnessing Carol’s uncontrollable rage at things he can’t change or understand, or hearing Alexander say several times “no one listens to me”… it rings true of the confusion, loneliness, pain and fear we experience during abuse. The things couldn’t verbalise their pain, they could only feel it and react when it became too much. Like the things, childhood abuse survivors rarely verbalise their pain during the event(s), or for many years afterwards.
I sat through the movie, next to the mother (yes, she ignored my requests not to come up), hoping that she would relate the movie to my childhood. But she came out saying that the movie wasn’t what she was expecting. She’d been disappointed. But to me, the movie was validating – THAT is how I coped with the anger, I couldn’t destroy trees or other people’s home with my anger like Carol, so I compartmentalised it. I now try to express that anger through my self-injury, suicidal ideation and intent. This is me destroying people’s houses and striking out in the only way I can. I still can’t verbalise that anger, but I can hurt this body. This hurting is the language of the ones holding the anger and pain. At the moment, it’s their only language.
I’ve read reviews of the movie, where it has been considered a cautionary tale for adults expecting someone to come along as a false king, and save them from themselves. I think this holds true for those of us during our healing journey too. We can’t expect anyone to come and “save us” or be our king, but we can hope to have someone offer guidance and help. Healing and holding this anger is hard work, but in the end we are the only ones who can do the healing for ourselves. The skill of those around us will influence the rate of healing, but they can’t do the hard work in our place.
I know that we can continue on this healing journey, but we need to maintain our safety in the process. Our safety has become more of an issue over the last two weeks, to the point that I will hopefully be going into some form of respite care on Boxing Day. I need to do this to try and work through some of my anger in a safe environment. I know the anger has to be there, I need to get in touch with it and release some of it before it consumes me.