(seemingly in direct contradiction to the following post, I just put a poem I wrote some time ago up at La Parola Vivace…)
+My theory of why some of us have grave difficulty feeling safe in the world and with others of our species is not new…but perhaps worth a little review.
We come into the world as symbiots needing nothing but to be held against the breast of the Other. Then we begin to discover that we are separate, to experience separateness, aloneness, and eventually, to follow our instincts and curiosity, crawling then toddling, into the next room.
By preschool, in theory, we can handle being away from the Mother or caregiver– provided she/he has been a constant in our lives and we are not afraid that we will be abandoned. We face our fears of strangers and new environments with her help.
In time, we find that we can attach to others and join a group of our peers, holding our own. We discover our talents and proclivities and we begin to achieve and know early independence. One day, we take wing. We need to return to the nest less frequently, and we are driven to nest on our own behalf; we experience ourselves as solid and secure for the most part.
But there are those of us who have never felt safe in the world and who cope by isolating and scaring ourselves out of the very things that would mitigate against unrelenting loneliness.
Perhaps we were violated as children. Perhaps we were repudiated. Perhaps the Other was ill and taken away and we have tried to live with an immense love deficit, wandering along trailing a bleeding umbilical cord.
However you cut this cake, the core issue becomes that at some terribly important moment the most necessary attachment we had was broken, and that we stopped being able to trust– or to grow.
I would rather have nearly any malaise life has to offer than this foundling syndrome (I don’t like any of the diagnostic labels that might apply), in which I cycle again and again into feeling vulnerable, afraid, and immediately withhold myself from life. When my syndrome is active I am not: I hide out in my apartment in a dark bedroom when others are out interacting in offices and coffee shops, and I come out when those awful fears that if I go out the door something will obliterate me abate.
As I’ve blogged about many times since last winter, I have recently charged myself with the task of leaving/changing a very safe but grueling life. I hid out on a piece of rural property surrounded by animals and their incessant demands for some twenty years. When I did venture out exhausted and covered with dog hair, in many instances– more than I am comfortable recounting–when I opened myself up, it didn’t take much of a misunderstanding or hard moment to scare me back to safety and retrigger profound distrust.
So it was that a year and a half ago I tried to live in a renovated hotel in downtown Fort Collins, in a beautiful condominium above Starbucks. Starbucks wasn’t the problem; I loved the smell of coffee coming up from the radiator. It’s that I couldn’t feel safe. I would go out into the mezzanine of the place to interact with other residents and then I would retreat. My first few attempts to get to know a few other women went on the rocks, and I let all of it jettison me out of the place. It’s true that some of these people were quite scary, but if I had been stronger, perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so besieged.
I finally took an apartment in my old neighborhood that I am comparatively comfortable in– but there is a saying that wherever you go, there you are, and that is so very true!
After much journaling and talking things out with a friend, I’ve realized that I still feel immensely vulnerable, and that it is the sense of vulnerability keeping me from basic things, like finding a new doctor, going to the dentist, as well as showing up downtown for a latte in the very area I’ve loved for so many years. It’s vulnerability that makes me endanger myself by staying out late with a friend and coming back tired in the dark– it is a tried and true and seemingly safe rut.
But how vital it is to feel safe in this magnificent and troubling world. I know that it’s possible to overcome these emotional mountains: years ago I bought an old horse; in the beginning I only had the courage to go down a driveway and back, and within a year rode to the top of a mountain on a much younger, headstrong and very athletic horse. During that same period I took myself all the way to Denver to the opera, and I used to commute to teach at Boulder. It was about baby steps, as it were: gradually pushing back the boundaries of my world until I could inhabit more of it.
On the news today are new stats on how many hours our children and grand children are spending online social networking, how much they “text”. These things are ready made for kids with trust issues; they keep all of us from having to risk associating with each other.
All that I know to do for the scared child within me is to soothe and encourage her, to feel the fear and do it anyway, in terms of getting out into the day. Where yesterday I had the confidence and sense of strength to turn my whole life around, part of healing is the step back and a day like today. I know that I still haven’t gotten my mojo back from becoming institutionalized in the nursing home a few years ago, where my wheelchair represented safety to me and going back out in the world seemed impossible.
Those of us who have battled such demons know how hard it is not to interpret setbacks as failure and to keep on. But we must; the options suck! One potentially helpful technique has to do with “mindfulness”– to hang out with the very uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability and realize that it is just a feeling and that we are still there, that we are stronger than we believe we are.
Now that I’ve written this, I feel better; I think I’ll vary the routine today a little bit, let myself off my leash and stop in at the drive-in place for a cuppa joe… How about you? What do you do when and if you don’t feel safe?