Safety, Trust and Control
I was ready to tap into my trapped emotion in order to release it, when I finally embarked into therapy. I wanted to get to a place where everyday triggers did not effect me in such a big way. I wanted to be in a place where the smallest little thing would not send my mind into overdrive, accompanied by a massive, debilitating wave of anxiety. I wanted to stop the nightmares and the surface level flashbacks, that had been playing out before me, for 20 years. It was the right time to tackle my history head on, in order to move forward with my future. I owed it to myself, my partner and to my children.
I had a history of skirting around my issues, by only really allowing myself to look at the everyday life stuff, which compounded and exacerbated them. I had run out of energy, trying to contain ‘it’ all and I had a real desire to have a general feeling of settled. I made a choice; to free myself from the hell I found myself trapped inside. I made a decision, at 20 years safe, that ‘he’ had stolen enough of me and I was not going to allow him to steal any more of my life.
Therapy was one of the best things I have ever done, but also one of the hardest. It was not an easy transition to transparency with my therapist and I think I was my own worst enemy at the start. I needed a plan and a structure and I tended to over-think sessions, while calculatingly considering what I was willing to release, but the real work was done in the sessions that were the most organic; when I let go of the reins. Surely if I had been strong enough to hold ‘it’ all in, I was strong enough to let ‘it’ all out. I had been through worse. Even still, I found it hard, fighting against the need to remain in control of the details, because they belonged to me. I found it hard, fighting against the critical inner voice that warned me not to trust for fear of opinion and treatment of me, changing as a result of disclosure. I wanted to feel safe enough to deal with the stuff that for so long had made me feel desperately unsafe.
Since I embarked on healing, safety, trust and control have been recurring themes peppered throughout the journey, almost like a motif that can be seen intermittently by the trained eye, in a contemporary piece of dance. I have shied away from looking at these words and unpicking their importance, because they hold quite negative connotations for me. I really think that my sense of safety, ability to trust and tendency to control situations, are interlinked. I think my tendency to control is born out of a difficulty in trusting and a traumatic foundation that was distinctly unsafe. Taking control of situations and trusting that things will be OK, does not make me feel safe however.
The intrinsic human needs to feel safe, loved, nurtured and protected have been fundamentally unmet since childhood for me. I remain convinced that I was 8 years old when my dad began sexually abusing me, despite physical, emotional and verbal abuse, also being consistent features of my upbringing. Here was a man, who was supposed to love me and protect me and keep me safe, doing the complete polar opposite, which I found super confusing. I saw a difference in my peers and the relationships they had with their parents and I wanted what they had. I think this was the birth of jealousy for me, which led to a deep rooted sense of hatred for my dad (and my mum). My friends seemed to have lovely, understanding, protective and supportive parents and it just wasn’t like that for me. I really did believe that there was something wrong with me to warrant this kind of treatment and I internalised guilt, shame and blame as a result.
I spent so many of my formative years scared, or in pain, to the point that I did not know what safety was, until I was ‘dumped’ at my grandparents and I suddenly found myself safe. There is a very real difference between physical and emotional safety and I learnt that very difficult life-lesson, the hard way. I enjoyed being ‘safe’ and life at my grandparents was very different, but I quickly sort escape from the emotional pain I carried in my head which resulted in risky and self- harming behaviours, that threatened my physical safety once again. I was unable to cope and process what had happened at home and I wonder now, whether I returned to unsafe behaviours and places, because the feeling was familiar to me?
I think for about 15 years I went into survival mode emotionally, when I was physically no longer under attack. I wasn’t really living and stuck in a kind of limbo for the duration. I was too afraid and ill-equipped to delve in and unpick the things I had endured, afraid to allow myself to explore and feel the feelings that threatened to escape and afraid of showing my vulnerability, because I thought it made me look weak. I wanted to be seen as strong and together and the barriers went up, because “no one was going to hurt me again!”
I may have been safe from the physical invasion of the monster that was my dad, but I have never felt safe from the emotional after effects. I could still feel the pain and nothing hurts more than the emotional baggage that weighs us down. I was metaphorically juggling with knives, cutting myself often and I quickly became competent, applying the plasters. I was hibernating behind the wall I built to protect myself, until I was ready to process the lasting impact of that earth shattering beginning. The wall doesn’t work and the face I paint on, is ineffective, but the wall was not the first safety mechanism I depended upon to keep me safe……..
On the nights when ‘he’ entered my room, or the dangerously snatched moments where he felt he would not be caught, or at any time I have replayed those events, I used to feel like I was ‘out of body’. It was like watching what was happening to me from the outside and almost like I was telling someone else’s story. I think I separated me, from the harsh reality of the trauma to keep the essence of my soul safe? A large part of me, didn’t want to take ownership of the story. Since therapy began, I have been back in my own body and I became engrossed telling my story. Now, at last, I think, I have accepted that those unspeakable things, happened to me.
Therapy became a comfort blanket of warm acceptance, where I was heard and never judged. It became a place where I realised, nothing I said shocked and with having 3 children at home, I valued this space so much. It was a chance to stop and take a really focused look at myself and explore memories and feelings, where I was nobody to no-one. I was nobody’s friend, no-one’s mummy: I could just be me. I did not have to hold it together; I did not have to pretend to be OK. I did not have to worry about the impact of my ugly reality, on anyone else (especially my children). Therapy was my safe place to be, a safe place to do the work, and where I realised that it was OK to be vulnerable.
Therapy showed me that I could unpick the memories and feel the feelings and I didn’t completely break or fall apart. I was convinced that my therapist provided a safety net to catch me and bring me back to the here and now, after looking at this painful history, before putting me back together and packing me off, in to the reality that existed outside of my therapy room; for this reason, I really struggled with the ending of therapy. I voiced my concerns to my therapist who told me that I could create a safe place at home, ring fence the time to focus and that this could be at the same time as our usual weekly sessions. I didn’t believe her.
The end of therapy was tough, because without realising it, I had passed the responsibility of keeping me safe, on to my therapist (and the people around me, who love and care about me). I looked to her (and them) to create a sense of security. Since therapy has ended, the ownership of safety has returned to me. It is nobodies job to keep me safe but mine and I am doing OK. So far, the tool box I created and the resources I built up and catalogued, have been enough to ensure my sense of safety.
I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt with regard to safety is that the people in my life, come from differing places of safety to me. This is to say that the things that make me feel unsafe don’t necessarily make other people feel unsafe. I have had to learn to communicate what makes me feel unsafe and I can now understand that not everybody has the same background and issues as me. I think I also have a different place of safety to the inner children I harbour. When I started therapy I felt my fear. When my inner children made an appearance I could feel their fear. I no longer live with the same fear they had, and quite often my reaction to perceived threats, are their reactions and not the adult me I am now.
I definitely have a tendency to be swept along with the irrational thoughts that pop in to my head. Safety can be split into two realms for me: my role and worries and fears as a mother; and my feelings and emotional attachment to memories and triggers as a survivor. I have to remind my self that I am safe now. There is a very real difference between trying to make others feel safe and trying to save them. This is a fine line that I run the risk of crossing.
Asking for and relying on anybody’s help, has never come easy to me. Trusting and accepting any kind of help, made me nervous. My experience had inbuilt and ingrained in me, that neediness and dependence lead to disappointment and heart ache. I had a desire to settle my inner turmoil, but I also had huge trust issues. Having been so badly betrayed by both my parents, trust has always been a big issue for me: I always manage to keep people, only just slightly closer, than at full arm’s length.
Only when a special lady, took it upon herself not to accept the wall I built, who took the time to ask why the wall was even there, did I think to look beyond it and even consider disclosing and beginning to release the pain. She gently placed her ladder up against the wall, took the time to see beyond it and she showed me that she cared. She has spent many hours with me, standing on that ladder, looking in, reaching for my hand, listening to me pour my heart out and she continues to do so. She was an outsider, but I let her because I trusted her. She proved herself to be caring and dependable and she has never judged me.
This special lady took away the level of chaos I felt about revealing my true self and she single handedly got me to a place, where I believed and accepted that I needed professional help. I knew I had to finally face everything properly, fully, honestly and openly, but I had an irrational fear of the direction therapy would take. I had a fear of the pain I felt and a fear of releasing it all too, but knowing I was not alone and that I had managed to disclose everything once before, I trusted that I could do it.
I have always carried the shame of what happened to me, but I had a longing to be fixed and I really thought that this was possible, because now, I was ready for it. I have always seen my ‘shit’ as like a glass ball; I will only show you, pass to you or share with you, if I trust you. I trusted my special friend, I trusted my therapist and more recently I trusted my partner, with all of the gory details. But I think the real key was trusting and believing in myself. My faith has been somewhat restored in human nature and human kindness, but the difference from the start of therapy to now is now I trust myself to cope.
I like to know the who, what, when, where, why and the how and having access to the answers of these questions, I think, keeps me grounded. I need to know what is happening and I used to attribute this to just being highly organised, but I think if I am completely honest with myself, I am what is affectionately known as, a control freak. I like planning and organisation and I maintain control in my life by sticking to a rigid routine. I fight against my fibromyalgia and keep going regardless, in an attempt to control the flare ups. I can’t tolerate my body failing me and the cognitive discomfort that comes from being unable to meet my responsibilities. I have major melt downs when technology fails me. I am not the most technologically competent and I still struggle with relying on others for help.
I know what it feels like to be let down and there is no way I am going to do that to somebody else. I do what I say I am going to do, I am where I say I am going to be, but I expect others to do the same and when they don’t, this used to lead to a damaged trust. This approach leads to unrealistic expectations of others and I set myself up to be let down, which in turn justifies my fears. I used to think that people thought and behaved how I did. I think I have an appreciation of all of our intrinsic differences now and an acceptance of the importance of them. I think I also now have accepted, that sometimes life just gets in the way of the best laid plans.
Honesty is something that stems from a childhood of secrecy and is a quality that is very important to me, as well as being something I demand and expect. I can be economical with my truth and quiet secretive, (which is an inherent feature of my star sign, Scorpio), but I can not lie. I need 100% transparency from the people around me and if I suspect foul play, or an incomplete truth, I tend to shut down. Holding on to the control does not mean I can always handle it.
My granddad was very much of the mindset, that is you want something doing do it yourself. I think I learnt a little of this from him. I also think past experience can also lead to more prevalent controlling behaviour. My ex-husband was alcoholic and used to steal money I had saved to buy Christmas presents. He used to try to hide the evidence, under furniture or in empty unused suitcases, but I always knew he was lying to me. He would try and win the money he had stolen back, by buying lottery scratch cards and praying for a win that never came. My current partner was particularly bad at paying his credit card bill on time and has an annoying habit of going just over his over draft limit. I can’t tolerate this inability, to self control and self regulate behaviour. I control the money in our house.
I don’t like surprises and the feeling of free-falling this generates for me, although my inner children like the loss of control (which can be amplified by alcohol). I think my dislike of surprises stems from a feeling of being so out of control, while living with complete fear and totally manipulated, as a child. I felt so lost that I cling on to control, ever since I became capable of having it. Even though I struggle with the big adult life choices I have to make, which affect my children, I am the boss. I think my need to control situations is heightened when it comes to my children (although I am pretty sure they don’t have the same fear I had). I think this is because it is so desperately important to me, that my children feel safe and secure.
I struggle being brave enough to do things, I instantly have regret and self doubt when I eventually find the bravery and I think this is because the control has gone. I tried to control the therapy process, but the very real work was done when there was no plan. I had a plan for the first 5/6 sessions, including sharing letters I had written, which remain unsent. The process gained momentum and I went with the flow, in the end. However, I still hide behind a screen name and a writing name. Is this me clinging to some level of control? I have been quite happy to share and talk about my journey, but I have not really shared the details of my story in the public arena.
Life right now, is not overwhelming; I am not currently wrapped up in the journey, struggling to cope. But I have noticed that safety, trust and control grow in importance and magnitude for me, whenever I feel overwhelmed.