In therapy yesterday, we talked about having a “safe place”. Someone asked me what mine was. This thought has prompted me to write a series of reflections on this theme. I think there will be 5 or 6 in total but this may change. This introductory post to the series is poorly written, for which I apologise. It’s hard to form these thoughts into words.
The short answer is I don’t think I have a “safe place”, certainly not an actual physical place as I’ve heard other people with personality disorder speak of, and I don’t think I really did, bar one period of my early life which I’ll talk about in one of the subsequent reflections.
Over the past couple of years, with varying degrees of strength, I have felt a longing for a home, a stable home, although I didn’t necessarily term it “safety” in my mind. I’m not sure if I have ever actually felt safety. That sounds ridiculous. Yet if things were not physically dangerous there was a terrifying uncertainty and need to prevent disaster through the years of living with mother’s illness and behaviour, then – still now – the need to prevent everything I fear in myself getting out to other people. I was in danger, and I was the danger.
I did want a home. I felt that more and more raw longing. I felt it when my childhood family home was sold in my parents’ divorce, even though I had not lived there for many years and it had by no means ever been safe, it was still a wrenching goodbye and a loss of something. I don’t know what. Perhaps it wasn’t a loss if it had never been there in the first place, but an absence. Absence of home. Longing for it I tried to stay with my dad and stepmum, and what happened in that time hurt beyond belief and still feels as though it greatly damaged this family further.
Now I am trying to create a home and a safe place in my flat. I am incredibly grateful to have a place that is my own, to have had support through the council to get to this stage, where I can make a flat my own rather than renting a room as a lodger in someone else’s house or in a shared property. I never thought this would come. It is actually remarkably hard to make this flat a real home. Partly because I am getting used to the responsibilities of having a home – a greater number of bills, repairing things, upkeep and so on, which is all new to me although it is very late in my life for this to be new! Partly because I am so unused to knowing how to create something of my own.
As a child, whilst I did not have a feeling of safety, I created places in an internal world and escaped. Now this world comes unbidden and stronger than I expect. I have been told in therapy that it’s unusual that there are so many relationships in my internal world, rather than it just providing an escape to numbness. I don’t know how yet, but it is connected to feelings of having different personalities and of detaching from what is happening around me.
A counsellor I saw at school towards the end of my time there understood my escapes, I think. She realised how little, until I went to school, the outside world existed to our family and how little it crossed with mine (or rather, mother’s). The counsellor saw clearly how she taught me at home to keep me there for her, in her world, because she couldn’t cope with going outside it, magnifying school to be a terrible threat because she couldn’t cope with me going. And the counsellor said to me that to be able to live as I did, I must have found some way to escape and rebel. I was surprised at the question and could not answer it, though I could begin to see what she was touching on. I’ve returned to it at various times and now I think that perhaps my alternative worlds were how I escaped. (Also, so perhaps was schoolwork and so was my eating disorder.)
It feels sad to realise the absence of such a place now, and it is sad to realise the efficacy and strength of the alternative worlds then, and of my dissociations now.
Would I even know how to live if it were safe? How do I even begin to cope with the risks involved in becoming closer to those I most care about? When so much in me is, in so far as I can really believe, dangerous, repulsive, unacceptable, a disappointment, something people close to me really cannot cope with in the end and have to limit contact with?