I have two powerful women friends who were abused as children, who are suffering greatly now, decades later, because of that unresolved pain.

One is manically addicted to work, the other to prescription pain meds. It’s hard to see them in pain so I have offered to help each of them at different times. I have invited them on a few occasions to grab my hand and dive into the shadows of their hearts, where the memories have lived since childhood. Both have vehemently refused, each sharing the deep belief that if they take the dive they will be swallowed up by the darkness and drown. 

I have told them about my experiences, that the path through the shadows led me to the brightest light I had ever known. I promised them that the path into and through those shadows always looks scarier, just like walking into a forest at night. On the edge of a dark forest, it looks impossible to navigate the dangerous shadows and potential holes. But soon your eyes adjust, and magically new sources of light reveal themselves.

A bright light shines for most of us when we simply turn our mind’s eye toward the little pieces of ourselves that we left behind. For me, it was the five year old from the time of my parent’s separation, the seven year old around the time of their divorce, and the eleven year old, when my dad moved several states away. Those little ones were waiting for me to come back and were thrilled to see me in my adult form, ready to hug, love and reintegrate them into my adult self. 

Take a moment right now to imagine the little one inside you who suffered a childhood trauma that affects you still. Remember roughly your age and what you physically looked like at that moment in time. Now imagine shining a soft and loving light into the corner of your heart where that little one still resides. Imagine her smiling upon your arrival. She has your attention! She’s been trying to get your attention for years now–yanking, tugging, poking. Now she has you and your love directed her way. What a relief for her, for you, to start this journey toward healing. Imagine you grab her hand and bring her into the light and tell her you are here for her, to love and nurture her. Imagine the peace that comes to her heart. Now, check in with your own heart and see if any peace has come from this mere imagining.

The story of what brought you to this moment is very simple in one way: you had a trauma, and no one was there to help you emotionally navigate its effects. The adults that could have helped didn’t know how to help or didn’t see your pain. But you’re an adult now and you can dive in for these disenfranchised little ones. When you do, it’s like a light goes off in the places of your heart that are causing you pain.

This is the first joyful step toward healing: shining the light. Grabbing her hand is the second step, an act of pure love. I am here for you. I am here to love you. I am here to heal us both. Then you can walk into your future, hand-in-hand. 

Take a moment to take in how tender, gentle and full of grace this process can be. Step by step you walk the healing path together, looking back to that trauma, saying what needed to be said back then, what needs to be said now, looking at the big picture and the smallest of moments to see all that demands your adult attention and love.

I often think of this shadow work as rediscovering a forgotten closet with treasures inside. I open the door, turn on the light, and see the little one accidentally left in there long ago. For instance, I didn’t know I left behind my eleven-year-old self who acted like she was totally cool with her dad moving 3,000 miles away. She was angry as all get-out. I hadn’t given her a voice for decades and she deserved to have her say: Why didn’t you say this to him to get him to stay? Why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t anyone love us enough to help? Why would he move away if he really loved us? How awful must I be?

I listened intently to her needs and firmly told her I would take care of her from now on, that when she got triggered she wouldn’t have to scream or act out, that we could walk through the waves of pain with grace together. I can’t tell you the joy this shadow work has brought to my heart. Now, even when a shadow gets triggered I am awake, the lights are on, and I can reach out and see what she needs, we can nurture her, and move powerfully forward. 

Think of your heart as your engine. Shadow work is like tuning up that engine. Keeping our hearts clear, clean, running on all cylinders, keeps us on the road to our highest self-expression. If that road appears too dark, I am here to scream from the lamp posts that that road will rise to greet you and will light up in response to your efforts. 

It’s your heart. It’s your road. It’s your choice. You deserve to have the most powerful engine propelling you down the most well-lit road to get where you want to go, have what you want to have, and be who you want to be.

Bridget Fonger is the author of Superhero of Love: Heal Your Broken Heart & Then Go Save the World, which is available for preorder now on Amazon.