All too often, the question someone who has survived abuse asks herself/himself is "Am I safe?"
That question becomes such a constant, it is subconsciously asked, evaluated, and answered every moment. Every day. It's like living in a never-ending game of some fucked up version of a Milton Bradley board game.
Am I safe? Yes. Move forward one step.
Am I safe? Unknown. Lose your turn.
Am I safe? Unknown. Take 4 steps back.
Am I safe? No. Go to jail. Go to directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
The infinite loop of it is what, I believe, is at the root cause of most of the free-floating anxiety I live with every day. I mean, what must it be like not to question every step, every decision, every interaction, every waking moment with whether or not my safety is at risk?
Truthfully, it's only been in the last 4 years I've been given a respite from it - at least when I'm at home.
This weekend was full of questions from several people - some with similar experiences - that have led me down a road of questioning The Question...Am I Safe?
The first...lunch with a new acquaintance friend who asked me how I can do what I do on my blog - talk about sensitive things, vulnerable things, hard things, without fear. How I can put myself out here time and again so easily.
My answer to her was that after years of being afraid, years of questioning if I was safe to just exist, years of feeling powerless, voiceless, alone, I finally found the strength to live without fear, without shame, without guilt for being the woman I am. I refuse to squash even one ounce of what I've worked so very hard for and that is to feel empowered, to feel loved, to feel unashamed, to feel vulnerable, sad, elated, giddy, stupid, imperfect, human...and to admit it - shout it out loud from the pages of my blog. I am not immune to judgment but now I am strong enough to understand from where that judgment comes. And it's not from me. Thus, it is irrelevant.
Then, talking with another friend who, during the course of conversation, raised the topic of her uncanny sense of direction. A skill I also possess. I asked her, with some reservation as I'd never broached the subject with her before, if she had any abuse in her past. She confirmed my suspicion. I told her I had a theory about abuse survivors - some of us anyway - who learn early to devise escape routes for ourselves. Some of us recognize and convince ourselves it is important to always know where we are and how to get away from danger without getting lost. We commit while remaining noncommittal. We know how to run. We always have a back up plan [and multiple non-husbands?]. We memorize maps. We subconsciously take note of lefts, rights, u-turns. We know the shortcuts, the back ways, the unmapped, rutted, dirt roads. Need solid directions with landmarks noted? Ask an abuse survivor. Chances are good we'll get you where you need to be in the best way possible.
Later, I talked with another new friend about our shared experiences. Talked about how we didn't know what would be a PTSD trigger. What would send us reeling. We talked about that core of steel we have - the one no one can access...not even ourselves. We talked about what was in there, imprisoned. Lonely, afraid, and...Sad. We acknowledged to one another that no matter how much therapy we paid for, no matter how much work we did, no matter how much we attempted to down play our experiences, those experiences would always ALWAYS play a factor in our lives. That small, desperately frightened voice echoing up from that core of steel ALWAYS there asking the question...
Am I safe? (twist)
Am I safe? (twist)
Am I safe? (twist)
Still later...a friend and I were hanging out - a friend I trust - and he was playing around, teasing me with words. It rubbed me the wrong way.
Fine. It triggered off a round.
It's no surprise really that, after the conversations I'd recently had, I'd find myself sensitive and vulnerable. Especially when it was out of character for him to act this way. But when I found myself welling up with tears, I retreated - you know, as I do - attempting in vain to hide the hurt that lurked.
When I came back, what was a surprise was the voice that came out of me...the voice, sounding like my own, but not my own...so much younger, so plaintive and vulnerable, bubbling up from that steel core asking, "Why are you being mean to me? Did I do something wrong?"
He stopped dead in his tracks.
"I didn't know," he said. "Talk to me," he said. "You have to tell me," he said.
And so I did.
And I was safe. (twist twist twist)
Take one step forward.
Maybe I'm getting well.