Feeling Unsafe vs Being Unsafe

Fear rules my life. There I said it. I am not ashamed.

I realized I base all of my decisions to minimize fear and stress factors.  I don’t live in a warzone, there are no spies or missiles outside my door, only bunnies and flowers.

When did fear become my captor? The answer is not a warm and fuzzy one.

I remember being afraid in 4th and 5th grade:

  • to go on school field trips and getting sick to avoid going
  •  to go on overnight trips with girl scouts – I never went on any and quit scouts so I wouldn’t be asked again
  •  to talk to people and wrote them notes instead. I would invite friends over to play in notes. I created clubs to join with me in notes. I created big skating parties for the weekends in notes. No one ever responded, in the notes or by calling

I was never afraid of AF himself – he never hurt me (or I didn’t know he was hurting me, I trusted he wouldn’t hurt me like the boys or pets, I was special), I was only afraid of letting him down, of not being good enough for him, of not making him happy.

After the divorce and it was only the two of us, I was afraid of losing him. He was all I had. I used to beg him to stop smoking. I was not afraid of AF himself until I had children of my own and fully realized what he had done to me. I was too abused and part of his warped world to be afraid of him. I loved him. More than anything. And so instead, I was afraid of everything else, including being away from him.

Sooo – I’m still fearful and avoiding most social situations. I still prefer to hide behind notes, emails, texts. If I must or I really want to attend, I hide in my car and do breathing exercises in the parking lots until I can join the party or group or whatever people are waiting on me.

I’m starting to break down this feeling I get, when I feel unsafe. It drives me batty because I am actually safe. No one has a gun to my head, my life is not in danger, no one wants to hurt me, everyone will smile when I arrive. This social anxiety started at such a young age for me now that I think about it, I can recall it for age 8, so was it even earlier? Was I simply afraid to leave AF and I’m still carrying that insecurity around with me? Like the toddler clinging to mom’s legs, since my parents never reassured or kicked me out to fly on my own? In fact AF crafted me to be insecure so I would belong to him, emotionally torturing me, brainwashing me.

I know the biggest reason I was afraid to leave home too long was I was afraid he would kill my pets, directly or indirectly. I was always rushing home immediately after school to check on my animals and make sure they were ok. I had lost so many through the years to his wicked hands, all my fault, for being ‘less than …’ for breaking some obscure rule, or my favorite, for loving the pet more than him. I know that now, I didn’t then. I’d watch them die, hold them as their hearts stopped, or search the neighborhood night after night for the ones he already got rid of and didn’t tell us and AF would laugh, a laugh I can still hear in my soul like an evil wind-chime, and he’d tell me I was stupid for loving a stupid beast and that it was my love that killed it. That must be what he meant, but I’d always be crying and hurting and confused. And then AF would wait a bit, stop laughing, and come back to comfort me. He’d hold me until I stop crying and fall asleep, and I would feel safe. I remember feeling safe there. And then he’d bring home a new pet and start all over. I didn’t know cats and dogs lived longer than a year until I had my own. So many, so many poor animals.

Is that it? Is that enough? Is that enough of a sick, twisted, sadistic reason to make your sweet, big-hearted daughter forever afraid to leave her home and talk to people 30 years later?

What I’m trying to say here, is that abuse is made up of lies. Abusers lie to children to get what they want, and children lie to themselves to survive.

  • When young, I felt safest in AF’s arms. That was a lie.
  • I felt unsafe away from home. That was a lie.
  • I had to lie to protect myself. That was the truth.

So what really happened when I felt unsafe in this group therapy last week? I felt safe walking in the room Friday morning. No person there actually wishes to do me any harm. No one has tried to touch me or even come in my personal space. No one has forced me to say or do anything. It was only my own thoughts causing me to feel unsafe. And this mind-body-emotions integration thing that is causing me distress.

I spoke to the counselor individually and she apologized for the stress and gave me some canned phrases for any time in the future something feels too much, I can simply ‘pass’ and no one expects me to be able to do everything every day. Being the newest member I didn’t know these rules. Also, just not knowing my own healthy boundaries of when to say ‘no’, I had pushed myself too far without knowing it. Also, I discovered a neato parlor trick. I burst into tears and panic whenever you ask me to associate an emotion with a body part. (Are you feeling sad? Where in your body do you feel sad?) As soon as I attempt this feat, my system fails. I didn’t know this, and I wouldn’t have known this if I hadn’t of been in this group. I THINK it means I’m in pretty bad shape, that I’ve been operating in a detached state for longer than I can actually remember to protect myself from the emotions of the abuse. Like I have the memories here, the feelings there, and then the body feelings over there – all separate. I didn’t know I had done this. And I don’t know if I think it is worth integrating at this point. I’m so tired. I’d rather continue not feeling than have to reconnect with 16 years of detached feelings. Ugh this is hard.

So all of you that piped up and wanted to protect me, thank you. I was hurting and scared and upset when I wrote that post on Friday.

This group I am attending is a nationally recognized program for recovery of trauma like mine. It is through an accredited hospital and my insurance is paying for it. This is not a free support group of peers. This is run by ‘experts’ of social workers and clinical counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc. If I’m supposed to trust anyone, these are the people to trust. It is going to be hard. I am going to hate it. But they have promised to get me further on the path of removing AF’s roots and footprints from my trampled brain and soul.

So even though I may not FEEL safe every second there, I know that I am. I am sitting in a room with 12 women and a counselor. 12 other women who have been to hell and are trying to get back. So I will count and breathe and continue to go and see what else I can learn about myself. I can wade through the bullshit and pull out what I need. I will continue to be honest with myself and the counselor.

because the honest truth is, feeling safe has kept me home, safe yes, but wanting to die most days of my life. What if they can show me how to live a life I actually want to live

The counselor said she actually isn’t sure if the group is the right placement for me, but we’ve both decided to try a few more times before pulling me out to individual only. I’ve waited so long to get into this group, and I’d hate to give up at my first failure, if you can call a panic attack a failure, which I don’t any more. The counselor wants me to come early tomorrow to do safety work before group starts…no idea what that means, so curiosity wins again.

I’m not well. If they throw 100 new skills at me and even 1 of them helps me, well then I think it is still worth going. I can’t go back to who I used to be, that woman is gone – poof. Something is broken, or something is healing and I don’t even know which, I just know I am completely confused, can barely think, can barely function, and feel more fragile than a soufflé, like I can be deflated so simply and have to start from scratch.

But I am safe. I really am. Maybe I should add this and ‘my pets are safe’ ‘my kids are safe’ to my breathing mantras. I’ve been in protective mode for 30 years that I can remember. AF is gone now. I can stop protecting, at least stop neurotically protecting from him.

So I am going to push myself to do things that makes me feel unsafe, because I truly am safe. Hubby, MIL, SIL, counselor in group, and my counselor I’ve had for over a decade are all supporting me. I need to stop running and hiding.

I am safe. We are safe. My dogs are safe. My family is safe. My kids are safe.
I am safe. We are safe. My dogs are safe. My family is safe. My kids are safe.
I am safe. We are safe. My dogs are safe. My family is safe. My kids are safe.
I am safe. We are safe. My dogs are safe. My family is safe. My kids are safe.
I am safe. We are safe. My dogs are safe. My family is safe. My kids are safe.

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4 thoughts on “Feeling Unsafe vs Being Unsafe

  1. AF was truly evil. He stole something precious, your innocence, and twisted it. He did not know what love is and certainly couldn’t make any kind of credible statement about you.

    When asked to evaluate your experience, suggest they cover the rules before anything is started. I wouldn’t have known I could just say, “Pass.”

    No, a panic attack wasn’t a failure. It made you aware of a trigger and how bad it is… it helped you better define where you are in the process.

    “Something is broken, or something is healing…” A bit of both.

    You are a miracle. It’s is amazing you are still able to love. It also reveals that you are a remarkable strong soul. AF did his level best to crush you, and you rebelled and won. You are married, with children and pets, all things he worked very hard to ensure you never had. He failed. You succeeded. Now, you’re dealing with the the fallout. At the end of any war, the winners must shift into damage control and rebuild. Sounds to me like you’re shifting from damage control to rebuilding. A lot of clean up comes first, but it’s all part of the process. Go you!

  2. I am so proud of you. I hope you don’t take that the wrong way. You have walked through hell on hot coals, you are still doing so and you are willing to reach out and try to heal even knowing it is going to be scary and knowing it is going to hurt. Your courage astounds me.

    All of us, who follow you here will continue to lift you up here. I hope you know that.

    Now that you have described the program, I say give it a chance. Use the safe words. Use the tools and work it. AF was a expert of stripping you down to the bone, leaving you with nothing. You have come so far, don’t stop now. Yes, finishing the work you have started will hurt but think what beating him will feel like.

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