Monday, June 18, 2012

Safety Dance

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 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.


Gaelyn said...

Do you suppose talking and sharing your fear and pain can help you deal? I know it sure helped me as a rape victim.

Anonymous said...

I dealt with a panic disorder for many years. I tried cognitive behavioral therapy and it worked. Just like that, the fear was gone. Well, it wasn't that simple, but you understand what I mean. You would think that I would be happy now, but what I didn't understand then is that I was feeling that fear for a reason. After three years, I still have not adjusted to life without fear. I miss feeling vulnerable. It made the world feel so large, and I need to believe it is again. Anyway, that all came to me because of your blog and NIN. I listened to them a lot during my worst moments.

Graciewilde said...

This post resonates so much with me. Only recently did I realize that my safety is uppermost in my mind. Only recently did I realize that perhaps the loneliness and inadequacy that I feel much of the time (though I have a variety of cool masks that I have created to wear and cover loneliness) is really present.
Why are you being mean to me? Did I do something wrong? Those seem to be the questions of my life.
Thanks for posting - this is going to require more thought but I wanted to respond immediately.

Unknown said...

Would it surprise you to know I totally relate? I think those of us that have abuse in our past are some of the strongest people I know and yet, inside I never DON'T feel damaged. My days are shot through with emotional rebounds from perceived hurts. No matter how much growth I make, there is always this fear that weaves through everything, just everything. And, like you, this makes me brutally honest and unwilling to feel ashamed any longer.

I don't have full-blown anxiety attacks anymore, but I do get chronic mini ones and I compromise by choosing when and where to place myself in situations that will cause me to feel that kind of stress. It better damn well be worth it. Nine Inch Nails. Trent and I spent a long addiction together. Well, not long. It seemed long. Sometimes, I miss him. He understood me so well. This post is so well articulated, Jane. Thank you.

NGS said...

I always wall myself off when my husband says something that hurts me. It's a leftover artifact of a time long ago when I was powerless and scared. I'm trying really hard to be honest and let him know when his teasing has gone too far or my sensitivity has reared its ugly head. Good luck to you in your process of learning how to deal with this same thing!

Lucy said...

I think we all create walls and ways of surviving from things in our past.

cdnkaro said...

It's like you looked deep into my heart and poured out its contents onto this page, Jane. So well said, and so much to think about. The direction thing is totally true in my case as well, and I'd never really considered why...lots of food for thought. Thank you for being honest and vulnerable, that's what drew me to you in the first place:)
p.s. I want to go for coffee with you too. Not coffee actually, that's gross. Maybe diet pepsi.

The Shiftless Wanderer said...

Sharing this with some folks I work with . . . I am not an abuse survivor but a trauma survivor. I know that steel core of which you write. It has only been since I began work with an authentic movement therapist that the wall has begun to come down. I don't know if it's possible for those who have survived abuse, but I suspect that it might be. It's powerful, powerful work. And this, too, is powerful, powerful work. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You don't know how apt it is to read right at this very moment... I think lots of my personality is based on this concept. After being hurt by the people you care about and trust you learn to keep people at a distance, plan an escape route or steel your heart to the possible pain they can inflict. Anytime someone verbally threatens me, bullies me, belittles me, even when they yell too loud, I feel my body tense and either crawl into myself and physically remove myself from the person or prepare for battle... and Battle "Bunny" is a SCARY person. This is what I fear most, needless to say the few people that have pushed me there are still afraid of me and will never exist to me again. We all just want to be respected, people often take their "jokes" to far, it's ok to make fun of things but you shouldn't make your friends the butt of a joke. Isn't the whole point of friends to share yourself, enjoy each other and lift each other up? I know it is NOT to one-up, tease and make fun of their am I humorless?

Margi said...

I don't have any words to add here. I just want you to know I read it. And I think you're amazing.