Getting To Safety by Cheryl Marlene

Getting to Safety

Leaning into uncertainty . . .

I’ve done this in one way or another my entire life.

Sometimes not just a lean.

More like a leap.

Other times, a shrinking back.

Still others, an attempt at denial.

Without getting into details, in my earliest childhood I experienced several traumatic episodes.

Worse than bad.

Not as horrible as horrendous.

Enough to compromise my sense of safety.

Not feeling safe is a challenge for a child, especially when the general environment makes one doubt the inner feelings which questioned my safety.

I lived a charmed childhood in so many ways. I was afforded an amazing education and a whole array of experience of which most people only dream — and I experienced.

I had a loving family including grandparents who doted on me and shared their boundless love with me.

In the midst of this idyllic existence, how could I not feel safe?

Looking back I know why and I know the feelings were legitimate.

But, back then I was confused and challenged to defend my feelings to myself.

I can also see that I suppressed a lot just to make it through the day.

One of the losses I sustained then and carried forward was my ability to feel safe in asking for what I want.

I was the eldest child of an eldest child and raised to be responsible for EVERYTHING and EVERYONE around me.

I was a good girl always pushing myself to please my parents, my teachers, and all adults around me.

In this push, I learned to anticipate what others wanted, what others were capable of, and what, perhaps, they might do to harm me.

My wants weren’t just my wants.

My wants were calculations of what I thought most likely to occur and what would minimally be safe for me.

For example, I don’t ask my friend to see the movie I want to see because I’m not sure she will like it and would turn me down.

Because being with my friend so I’m not lonely is my real motivation, I suggest we go and she pick the film.

While I know this may not seem so awful, imagine this type of anticipation framing every desire, every connection, every request with everyone – and I truly mean everyone.

In each interaction I work double time to figure, anticipate, accommodate, intuit for the sole purpose of remaining safe.

Now imagine that this didn’t begin at age sixteen but more like age four or five.

Thus, from an early age I’ve been watching other people for their reactions and their choices in order for me to determine how I would engage with the world.

What I truly wanted was tamped down and ignored by me especially when I didn’t feel safe.

I justified this mode of operation as appropriate good girl behavior.

Only seeing my worth through what I did for others, always at the expense of myself.

It’s not just about asking for what I want without strings and anticipations attached.

It’s the fear that if I’m not careful, expressing my desires may put me in harm’s way and bring more pain into my life.

With life geared toward pleasing others, my caretaker training often pushed me to rescue others, to turn a lending hand into saving friends and family from themselves, and then being disappointed when they weren’t equally ecstatic with my heroics.

On the flip side was the niggling feeling of being alone, unliked, abandoned.

When you feel gawky, like your body doesn’t fit, and there is a constant sense of distance, its challenging to say “I’m OK, You’re OK” because that is not the inside feeling.

Paired with the loneliness comes the push to completely abdicate responsibility for myself.

Not only do I not show up for myself within my own source of happiness, I let this go in a punishing inner game of shame and blame.

Pushing away trouble as the fault of others while at the same time feeling ashamed of myself is not a beneficial approach to a balanced, happy life.

The push and pull of blame and shame attempts to hide self-awareness in the party clothes of arrogance and worthlessness.

The theatrics of this push-pull can occupy many years before one understands the source of this soulless shell game.

Additionally, this dishonesty creates an amazing scenario for self-punishment.

First is ending the pain of blame and shame.

Then, when I finally finish the game, the door opens to punishing myself for this original choice to try to keep myself safe.

I’ve learned this level of self-punishment is not uncommon.

Hindsight tends to judge harshly and berate self for what is now an obviously unfortunate chain of decisions.

But hindsight, when it takes a breath and steps back, will see the chain of events which led a small child to behave defensively and then will be less judgmental.

When surrounding adults misbehave, a child has a very limited set of choices.

What hindsight is acknowledging is that as the child grows up, choice expands and the stories of yesterday may be re-written to serve the adult of today and the growth and expansion of tomorrow.

Choosing self-punishment in the face of learning is but a repeat of a now outmoded habit.

Letting go of blame and shame, helps me see the future without the hopelessness of the past.

This release isn’t automatic or quick.

I have found that I need to be aware of my critical voice and the endless litany of criticism used to fuel my thoughts and beliefs about myself.

The good news is that the critical voice is tamable by countering a derogatory thought with a positive statement about who I am and can become.

This is one of the reasons I am such a fan of affirmations — the power of positive notions said by and for the self turns negative talkback into empowering choice and love for self.

When my mind is filled with the choice to see myself as powerful, positive, and pretty, then who I am is grounded and centered within the beauty of my capacity and worth.

This positive mindset opens the door for me to learn more and release additional layers of trauma, disappointment, and fear.

This shift helps me release my sense of responsibility for others.

Positive focus creates boundaries and I no longer tolerate others’ attempts to live through me.

Overall, the motion of release and acceptance of me exactly as I am helps create the safety I longed for in my younger years.

Not because life has become magically rosy. Nope!

Life still offers pitfalls and disappointments.

However, when I feel safe I don’t feel like I need to control the whole world.

Interestingly, with an inner sense of safety, I feel like I am better prepared to roll with the punches and handle life’s ambiguity and unexpected moments.

With a sense of safety, I feel powered to trust myself and trust my choices within each moment of my life.

Instead of trying to control each and every situation, I feel confidence in myself.

Trust, confidence, and a positive outlook go a long ways in countering the fear of life born from a childhood desire for safety.

Learning to re-frame experience creates this supportive environment.

Now I feel I’m no longer swinging in the wind, helpless,
and unworthy.

I feel the wind of change on my face as I face the power of now and the opportunity of my future.

I’ve grown and learned.

In the process, I find myself getting to safety.