Looking For One Safe Place
I sit quietly in my workroom, hands folded in my lap, summer night well-landed outside, crickets singing, and my old one-eyed dog tucked in beside me. For several minutes I am just quiet—remembering them—the brave women I’ve met over the last nearly 9 years of my life. From all walks of life, they each faced hurdles and took risks to change their lives for the better. They are so brave. I sit remembering them and the tears roll down my cheeks—not sad tears but reverent ones, because I was lucky enough to be alongside them as each chose, in her own way, to stop participating in an abusive relationship with others, and to start an intentional loving relationship with herself.
These were the women who were brave enough to see clearly and face what was true. They saw that their life companion was not who they presented themselves to be. They saw the hypocrisy of the treatment industry. They saw the deficit in their religious communities (not necessarily in their religious traditions). They saw the withdrawal of family and friends. They saw both the impotence and misogyny of the justice system. Whatever was going to happen, reliable help for them was not coming from those resources.
These hard truths always hold the temptation for us to become hard ourselves—so brutalized that we are unable to care about life anymore. Instead, these women rolled up their sleeves and did the one thing that was the most subversive thing possible. They gave to themselves what everyone and everything else would not or could not—a safe place anchored in self-acceptance where they could learn what it meant to love themselves into a new kind of wholeness and a new kind of participation in life.
They took the meaning of their healing into their own hands, and began to love themselves
That’s why thinking about them brings a stillness within me—a heightened perception of real hope at work all the time, and in my tears, a deep joy at the results.
When I was reeling from PTSD and seeing my psychologist every week, her early responsibility to was put me back together enough so I could lead worship the next Sunday. That went on for a long time. Then, one day she gave me a CD with three songs on it (I’m old—that’s how we shared music then) and told me to go home and choose the one that was my song for this time. I don’t’ even remember the other two songs. As soon as I heard this one, I knew it was my song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4FT-JihkUA
Perhaps you aren’t that different from me. But then again, I have always had a keen awareness of injustice, even as a child. In some sense, I had been looking for one safe place all my life—a place safe from bullies, a place safe from the striving for approval, a place safe from being left out, a place safe from the slow sad learning that my gender meant life held less for me, a place safe from the increasing injustices of sexual harassment and assault, a place safe from being scapegoated, a place safe from the constant need for male approval and favour to be visible in school, at work, at church, at home. I believed there must be a place where I could live safely at least most of the time. When my (ex) husband told me he loved me, when he made vows to love, honour and cherish me, to become one with me, to be faithful to me until parted by death, to build a life with and for each other, I thought I had finally found one safe place in his love and his promises. I would be safe. Like you, I was really wrong about that. In the consequence, my life shattered into little pieces. My marriage had turned out to be the most dangerous place of all.
But slowly, as I worked with my therapist, something else happened. I had a strange idea creep into my mind: what if I gave myself some of the things I so freely gave to others? What if, instead of investing only in people and groups who were revealing that they were not good stewards of many gifts I gave them, I tried investing in myself, too. Here’s what that meant to me:
- I gave others the benefit of the doubt—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others my trust—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others understanding—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others loyalty—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others forgiveness—what if I gave it to myself?
- I gave others compassion—what if I gave it to myself?
- I gave others protection—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others time—what if I gave to myself?
- I gave others patience—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others support—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others acceptance—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others love—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others advocacy—what if I gave that to myself?
- I gave others a voice—what if I gave that to myself?
It was time to give myself some of the good stuff that I was already giving others. I put my toe into this new pool of “self-gracing”. So far so good. Then I waded in past my knees, my waist, my shoulders, and felt the strange, refreshing power of my own ability to bless my own life. Then, its current lead me deeper into grace until I went under for a while and everything sounded and looked different. But I did not die. I broke surface, remembering my baptism, giving thanks, and taking the meaning of it into my own hands.
We are meant to be the stewards of our own lives. We are meant to give ourselves what we need. We are meant to immerse ourselves in whatever our sources of grace are. For me it was re-visioning a sacred ritual from my faith tradition. For others it will be a moment in the garden when, hands deep in the dirt, you feel hope bubbling up all on its own. For still others it will be in receiving wisdom from the life birthed from your own body. There are those who will be transfixed by a piece of art or music or landscape and know for certain that they are connected to a force of life they have yet to fully tap for themselves. In whatever way you know it comes to you, or in the many ways it comes to you, you will brush up against the power that is saying “I’m always yours”. Dusted with that gift, you can begin to create a safe place where you can learn to love yourself.
Loving yourself is not being vain, not being self-indulgent, not being pitiful, not being selfish. Loving yourself is about creating a safe place for yourself in your own life. If you are usually at war with yourself, you call a truce. You accept yourself—gifts, flaws, graces and challenges—all. You fire the constant critic in your head. Even if half of what the critique says is true—so what? You are accepting yourself as imperfect already. And you hold space for yourself in this world not because of how your husband or boyfriend treats you, not because of whether your body measures out to the tyranny of misogyny’s demands, not because of how much money and great stuff you have, not because you are smarter than others, not because of who other people think you are or how they judge you—but because you are a human being living inside the only life you are going to have! It follows on that epiphany that your first responsibility is to be a compassionate and advocating steward of that one precious life. And you start living from that one safe place.
As you take up this new life, other things will fall away from you. They may return. Other people will fall away from you. They may return. Loving yourself is a profoundly subversive thing for a woman to do, and also the most powerful thing. It changes everything. You are no longer as easily manipulated—because you are an active guardian and advocate of your worth. You are no longer wasting energy trying to get what you need from others who do not have it to give to you, or who will not give it to you—because you are already giving to yourself. You focus on your legitimate needs—because you finally know what they are.
Of this much I am sure. For wives and partners of men called sex addicts, the entire approach of the treatment industry depends on you not having a safe place, and not loving yourself, so that you can be treated as an accessory without you noticing it. It is crafted to serve the so-called addict, first, and the marriage or life partnership, second. I don’t even think we come in third. I don’t even think we are on the radar except as a prop in the fake recovery narrative.
It is your love for yourself that creates your safe place. Elsewhere I have said that when we love ourselves, we stop looking for other people to do that so we won’t have to. Instead, we look for them to join us. We engage life from that place of safety. And in loving ourselves, we more completely know how to love others.
As this new way unfolds, remember that the first step in recovering from trauma according to the ground-breaking and still-leading work of Dr. Judith Herman is “safety”. You will find safety is the one thing you will not be given by the treatment industry, your husband or boyfriend, your religious community, your family and friends, or your workplace. If you are the exception to that, then good for you. The rest of us must live with the larger reality. But even if all these will not give it you, you can now give it to yourself.
Today I sat in my workroom remembering the women who did this amazing thing, and found their lives got traction again. That does not mean their lives were easy. Their lives were not easy. They still lost a great deal and grieved mightily. But they gained a life that was right under their noses waiting to be loved, cherished, and honoured by themselves. Some ended primary relationships. Others tried new ones. Still others are working through a larger plan. But all of these women stepped away from the misogynous vortex of false recovery, false treatment programs, and false treatment practitioners. Many live with much less than they did. And are happy. Not one of them wishes they had stayed for more of the abuse. Most just wish they got out sooner.
When I told my psychologist what song I had picked, she nodded. I told her I just wanted to be safe. It was months later before I told her I finally understood that I needed to be my own safe place. I had to give it to myself and stop looking for it somewhere else from someone else. After that, I began a whole new relationship with myself. I gave myself what I gave others so generously. I invested in my life the way I invested in others’ lives. And I am living the very best years of my life. Somewhat strangely, the more generous I was with myself, the more generous I have become with others. Even the gigantic black spider I found upstairs made safe passage in a plastic jar to the great outdoors. When we are in close touch with the value of our precious lives, and are good stewards of that unique treasure, we find grace abounds for ourselves and for all creation.
This is your life. You only get one. Be your own safe place—and live that precious life.
If you are ready to be your own safe place and explore what it means to love yourself into wholeness, I would love to hear from you. Remember, your story is safe here. Diane@yourstoryissafehere.com