Be That Safe Place For Someone

It comes out of the blue.  Completely unexpected.  And when it does, it shakes me to my core. 

The memories.  The feelings.  The fear. 

Sometimes it is right there, under the surface but I don’t know quite what is going on…. Sometimes I don’t realize the impact until…. BAM!

I am a survivor of child sexual abuse.  I am a survivor of teenage sexual assault.  This is a part of my story.  A part of who I am.  But it does NOT define me, most of the time…. Which is why I say I am a survivor, NOT a victim.  I survived.  And I am who I am today, because of all I have survived and been through in my life.

I don’t share the details of my abuse, not even with my husband.  No one needs to know the details.  But I do share the effect, the emotions, the pain.  It is hard to talk about.  If you have survived sexual assault or abuse, then you know how difficult it is to talk about.  How hard it is to say it out loud. 

I don’t like to talk about it.  So why am I writing this today?

I find myself in the midst of emotions right now, and memories are popping up again and I am feeling somewhat discombobulated and unsafe.  Not a place I like to be.  Not a place I seek out.  Yet, here I am.

There is usually a catalyst that brings me back to that little girl who can’t find a safe place and feels so violated, scared and ashamed. 

Twelve years ago, I went through a major AHA in my weight loss journey.  And it was while losing the weight, that I started sorting through the excess baggage of my life.  I dealt with the baggage, one at a time… one memory, one moment, one abuser at a time.  As I sorted through the baggage, long hidden memories surfaced and shook me to my core.  I had to deal with them.  I had to face the fear.  I had to make the little girl feel safe.  So, I dealt with each moment and memory as they came back to me, sorted it, faced it, comforted the little girl, and when I couldn’t face it any longer, I closed that bag and rested.  Then when I was ready, I started sorting through the baggage again, throwing away those parts of my life that did not help me and keeping the parts that helped me to grow and become the person I was meant to be. 

That was hard!  REALLY hard!  But I got through it and moved on to a better place.  I was a survivor.  I am a survivor, and NO ONE will EVER make me feel unsafe or violated again!  NEVER AGAIN.

I even got to a point where I was able to forgive my abusers, yes there was more than one.  I never told them.  But I wrote letters to each of them.  And at the end of each letter I found peace and forgiveness.  Forgiveness was more for me than for them…. Which is what forgiveness is really about.  By forgiving them, I was able to let go and be free.  I was able to take the power away from them and stop being the victim.  I took MY POWER back! 

Seven years ago, I went through a really rough period and once again emotions, pain, shame and fear popped back up, coming from no where and completely unexpected.  My father’s death and a difficult person in my life were the catalyst, and there I was again.  I still had some work to do, that obviously I had not been ready to deal with previously.  I faced it again.  It took time, but I got through the memories, the pain, the shame and the fear.  I AM a SURVIVOR. 

For a couple of days now, I have been feeling….. fear…… unsettled….. discombobulated….. and have this underlying feeling of being violated.  It came out of the blue.  Once again, I did not see this coming.  But here it is.  This time set off by a camera put up on the back of my neighbor’s house, high up near the roof line.  The camera points into their yard and my backyard…. my back yard that is surrounded by a 7-foot block wall.  No one can see me when I am back there (well sometimes you can see the top of my head…) and no one can see me walk from the back door to the pool in my swimsuit.  I can sit back there and know that I cannot be seen… Not from the street or my neighbors’ houses.  We purposely looked for a house that had no 2 story homes behind it, because we wanted to be in our backyard and in the pool we would build without being watched.  Something very important to me. 

I didn’t know how important until this week.

Our neighbors sent us the screen shot of what their camera sees when we asked.  And yes, the camera sees my yard, my patio, my windows, my grill, both of my back-doors.  My neighbors are nice.  We like them.  And they said they would try to adjust the angle away from our yard.  My mind knows they are probably not sitting there watching us….

But….

Here is the thing about sexual abuse survivors, especially ones who were children.  Being watched, the perceptions of being watched, having a private space invaded and no longer private is disconcerting and feels like the violation is happening again, right now.  Being watched without my knowledge or my permission is a violation that transports me right back to the unsafe space that the little girl lived in.

I know my neighbors are nice people and they are not doing this for any nefarious reasons.  But when I walk outside to grill or swim or read…. or walk by my window and catch a glimpse of the pool or birds on the wall, I SEE the camera.  IT IS THERE!  Seeing the camera EVERY time I step outside rips the band aid off all over again. 

I feel violated.  I feel unsafe.  And I can’t stop the feelings. 

I should feel safe inside my own home.  I should feel safe in my private backyard.  I should not fear walking outside.  But here I am.  Feeling re-victimized again.

As a survivor, I still deal with the memories, and they come at me at unexpected times.  In unexpected ways.  And usually I can deal with them.  The catalyst that causes it goes away on its own or I remove it. 

But this time, I have no control over that damn camera.  And no control over the feelings of violation that the invasion of my privacy is causing me.  Or the memories it is bringing back to me. 

I will work through this. I will get to a safe place eventually.  I always do.  But right now, in this moment, I am scared.  I find myself covering up more (and it is really HOT here right now, too HOT to be wearing things that cover me completely) and I am keeping the blinds closed more, which prevents me from enjoying the view of the birds in my yard and my pool and my flowers.  I hesitate in going out the back door, because I know I am not alone out there any longer.

For most people it can feel like a violation when they are being observed on a camera and their privacy is invaded, but it doesn’t cripple them… makes them angry maybe, but not fearful.  But for sexual assault and abuse victims, it is a gut punch…. And then we are right back there, where it all began, feeling the terror, the shame, the pain…. It is as if we are being victimized all over again.  It is a creepy feeling to be watched when you think you are alone. 

Why am I sharing all of this?  Why talk about the current catalyst?  Because every person, knows someone who has been sexually abused or assaulted.  And I think we need to see some things through their eyes.  My husband is bothered by the camera, but it doesn’t stop him in his tracks when he wants to go outside and swim.  He is upset, but not crippled.  I am.  I am frozen.  I am fearful.  It is crippling me.  The tears are flowing, and I cannot stop them.  And I don’t want to feel this way.  I wish I could just ignore it.  I wish I could just brush it off.  But the memories are there.  The memories I will never forget.  The memories that sometimes shake me to my core and take me to a place I don’t ever want to be.  THAT is what is happening right now, every time I walk out my door.  And I cannot control it.  The camera or my memories and the emotions they bring up in me.  Deep in me. 

So, comfort that person in your life who may be struggling a little right now with memories of that long-ago abuse.  Understand that what doesn’t seem like a life altering thing to you, can destroy another.  And understand that a victim of sexual assault and abuse can and will survive but being a survivor does not mean that the affect of that abuse and assault won’t rear its ugly head.  Know that anything can be a catalyst to the volcano of emotions that erupt unannounced.  Don’t tell them to get over it, move on.  Instead comfort that person.  Let them know they have a right to feel that way and deserve to feel safe. 

Before you put up your security camera, check with the neighbor whose privacy will be violated by your video and make sure they are okay with it, they will appreciate your kindness.  Remember, not everyone wants “big brother” watching their every move, especially in the privacy of their own home or private, non-public outdoor space.   

I am lucky.  I have a wonderful husband who has been with me through all of this, who helped me sort through the baggage and made me feel loved, wanted and most of all, safe! 

Be that safe place for someone! 

Nature’s Music Soothes the Soul

I had been irritable for a few days.  Little things were bothering me that normally didn’t.  I was short with my family.  I was just plain irritable.  Life was off….. and I wasn’t sure why.

Until….

This weekend when I got up early, before any of my neighbors or my family and got in the pool.

It was so quiet.

It was so calm.

The sun was just coming up and I was alone.

I needed to do my lap swimming, part of my summer exercise routine.  So, I set out, swimming.  Still feeling irritable and off, like I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed… again!

It was so QUIET!  There were no flood lights shining into my backyard, blinding me.  There were no loud phone conversations, to which I should not be privy.  There was no base booming in the air or reverberating through the water and up my spine.  It was QUIET.  PEACEFUL. SERENE.

I didn’t need music.  I didn’t need my phone or TV.  I was disconnected from the very connected world we now live in.  It was just me and I could enjoy this morning, with the birds and yes the bugs!

I swam, different strokes on my back and on my stomach.  Listening to what was going on around me.  Ducks flew over my head.  Birds I had never seen or heard, were on the wall and trees singing to me, beautiful songs.  Birds I was used to seeing, sat on the wall watching me and making sure I knew they were there by the sounds they made.  The gentle breeze through the fronds of the many palm trees in our yard and in our neighbors’ yards created a melody that was soothing.  The sound of the waterfall into our pool soothed my weary soul.  Bees buzzed my head to land in the pool and take a drink (I didn’t enjoy that so much!).  And a beautiful, red dragonfly, like none I had ever seen before, swooped and dived around my head and my pool, following me and entertaining me.  This was Nature’s music.  This was Nature’s dance.

What a beautiful song it was!  What a spectacular dance it was!

And halfway through my lap swimming, it hit me.  THIS is why I had been so irritable.  I was missing my quiet time…. not just any quiet time, but the time I spent outside enjoying Nature’s music.

It is HOT here in Arizona, so outside time is limited to water time, which for me means pool time.  It is too hot to hike.  It is too hot for walks.  It is too hot to be outdoors. Period!  (For me anyway.  Yes, others get outside and hike, bike and walk, but NOT me in this heat!  I don’t like to sweat!)  I was missing the outdoors.  Last year, I was able to spend every morning and every evening in the pool, exercising and relaxing and enjoying the birds and bugs, the sunsets and sunrises, and the stars.  But this year I haven’t been able to enjoy it as much.  My quiet time had been hijacked and I didn’t realize how much I needed it or missed it.  Until my swim on Saturday morning.

I need time outside.  I need time in nature.  I need time disconnected from a very connected world.  I need to turn it all off and just be….. and time outside does that for me.  That is why we have created the backyard oasis we have spent the past year and a half building.  It gives us a place to get away.  A place to disconnect and breathe.  Something I really need.

Whether it is in the woods or the desert…. on the beach or on a mountain….. at the ocean, by a lake, on a river or in a pool…. in a national park, a forest or my backyard…. hiking, walking, swimming or just sitting….. I NEED to be outdoors.  And I need nature’s music to sooth my soul.  And outdoors, in the natural world, is where I feel closest to God.  It is where I feel spiritual.  It is where I can clear my mind and heal whatever my heart needs healing.  Nature is wondrous, a magical place with healing attributes.  Nature shows me what a mighty God I have and ALL that He has created.

At the end of my very long swim, I was at peace.  I was smiling.  And the feeling of waking up on the wrong side of the bed was gone.  The irritable feeling was gone.  My equilibrium was back.  I felt like me again.

All I needed was to be outside, where I could hear nature singing to me.  Then I could finally breathe……