Introduction to Safety
Feeling safe in your recovery should ALWAYS be your first priority. Whether you are working at the beginning or have nearly completed your journey, you need a framework of physical and emotional safety in order to progress in your recovery, because child abuse – at its core – is about being and feeling unsafe. People can change only from a position of safety. If you don’t feel safe, then you won’t progress in your recovery. You want a strong foundation upon which to build your new self, and safety is the core of that foundation. Safety is something that you want to incorporate seamlessly into your daily life, something you approach with the same dedication as you would a spiritual or moral practice. Safety is something that you must consider no matter where you are – at home, with friends and lovers and at work or play. Recovery entails facing horrible memories, painful feelings, powerful bodily sensations and potentially self-destructive impulses and behaviours. To withstand these reactions, you need to feel safe and strong as much of the time as possible. There are several steps involved in evaluating your current level of safety before you proceed with creating a plan for your recovery.
Assessing and Facing Risks.
Facing your abuse and your reactions to it brings with it risk: risk that you will feel overwhelmed, out of control, unable to make the right decision in any number of situations. You can’t grow without taking risks, but you won’t recover if you take risks that you are not prepared for. So, as part of approaching recovery from a position of safety and strength, you need to learn to distinguish between healthy and harmful risks. Think of safety as an inverted U curve, with the left end of the inverted U representing total safety but no risk and the right end of the U representing no safety and total risk.
The optimum growth point is to the right of the middle of the curve – where high safety is combined with low risk. You always want to be conservative in balancing safety and risk because you want to avoid setbacks that may occur when the level of risk outweighs the level of safety you feel you need. Considering that many survivors have histories of self-sabotage or of being re-victimized as adults, SAFETY FIRST! means learning to take fewer risks while you create more safety for yourself. Besides helping you to avoid setbacks, the idea of SAFETY FIRST! is to maximize your chances of success when you do decide to take appropriate risks, so that you begin to build success and mastery into your life. By mastering challenges that contain some risks, you will begin to develop confidence in yourself, which in turn will enhance your self-esteem. In other words, you want to be s t r e t c h e d by your recovery but never broken.
Timing is Everything
Recovery occurs in small, steady steps taken one after another. Each step you take needs to be reviewed, evaluated and experienced so that you can derive maximum benefit from your hard work. Try not to get ahead of yourself. Many survivors feel impatient with the pace of their recovery, especially if they have spent years feeling stuck. You may want to jump ahead and go for the “big success” out of a sense of wanting to finally put the past to rest. But remember, when you jump ahead before you are really ready, you sacrifice safety and risk a setback that can leave you feeling dispirited and hopeless. Try to reassure yourself that your abuse occurred over a long period of time – important formative years – and so full recovery is also likely to take time.
It is very important that YOU set the structure and pace of your recovery. Many survivors anxious to proceed with and “finish” their recovery often find themselves exploring recovery techniques that threaten them or make them feel re-victimized and violated. Often these survivors had some sense that they were not yet ready to explore their abuse issues at that particular level, but failed to trust their intuition cautioning them to move slowly. Although it is difficult to resist a path that promises to lead to healing and recovery, we strongly encourage you to trust your own inner sense about your readiness. If you are not sure yourself whether you are ready to explore your abuse issues using particular techniques or at a different pace, see if you can get some help from a trusted friend or therapist. Ultimately, though, you must be the judge of whether you are ready for a certain recovery experience. If you have a therapist, she or he may suggest certain techniques to help you in your recovery. If you have established a consistent level of trust with your therapist, you should be able to tell him or her that you do not feel ready to try a particular technique, or that you feel the therapy is moving too fast (or too slowly). An ethical therapist will never force you to do anything about which you are unsure, and will respect your sense of appropriate timing.