A safe space 

Monday’s therapy session was a little different than normal. We talked about the weekend– my parents had come to visit on Sunday, and we had a very low key day together. It was nice, I was glad they had come. I didn’t go to the trouble of changing things in my home, or myself, or making elaborate plans in the way I usually do. I stuck to our normal Sunday routine, except my parents were there, too. 

I shared that I never did give hubby the letter. I’m afraid, and each time I think about it, I find a reason not to. Some reasons are good ones, but ultimately it all comes back to the fact that each time I’ve been open and vulnerable, it ends up hurting me. He’s always great in the moment, and I expect that even if he is upset by what is in the letter, he will only show care and concern for me. It’s the after that is a problem. When he goes back to acting as though we never had this deep talk, and I’m left choosing between pretending right along with him, or being vulnerable and reaching for that deeper connection again. He never reaches for me emotionally like that. Bea points out that I asking for something that is more active participation, something to work on together weekly or whatever. I know that, I know that makes this different. But my fear, I explain, is that then it will be left on me to always bring it up, and I’m just not sure, given the uncomfortable subject matter, if I can keep putting myself in that vulnerable position and always being the one to reach out, and then be closed out for a few days, only to reach out again. I’m just not sure I can handle that. Bea tells me it is good, I am thinking about this and what I can handle, what I want. She says I’ll give him the letter when I’m ready. 

And then she reminded me that in my email last week, I had suggested we could figure out what to do with the words and maybe try the safe space exercise. I had emailed her the words last week, prior to the Thursday session we cancelled because of the weather. I sent her 6 words. She emailed back that for her, the list was pretty tame, and it helped me feel less freaked out that I was going to disgust her with the list. Most of the words on the small list I sent her are triggering for me, but they are things like the correct names of body parts, and some more regular words that trigger me– like pleasure. So, we talked… Well, she talked, about the words, and things we could do to try to desensitize me to them and make them less scary. I ended up hiding my face and feeling really embarrassed and upset and just panicked at the idea of having those words in the room. 

After checking that there wasn’t anything I wanted to talk about, she suggested we work on creating a safe space. I think, at first it was like pulling teeth for her to get answers from me. I felt bad, but I was having a hard time with the whole exercise. I actually have a very good imagination; I can easily get lost in imaginative play with my daughter if I let myself, and can create whole stories for characters and situations. I can take a blank sheet of paper, imagine how I want a dress or shirt to look and sketch out a pattern, look at fabric and ribbon and buttons and see something most others don’t. I was really good at my job as a hair colorist because I could see what the finished color would look like; I colored my daughter’s hair this weekend, and her head was loaded with foils. Yet, if she wears her hair parted one way, you can barely tell there is color in her hair. And if she wears it parted the other way, there are multiple streaks of pink, purple and peach running through her entire head. It’s beautiful, and it’s exactly how I wanted it to turn out. But, I’m off topic. I have a good Imagination, but allowing myself to assess it can be difficult. I’m not really sure why, just that it can be really hard to do. 

So, I’m sitting in my usual spot, and have pulled my knees into myself. I’d had my head down, hiding my face when we were discussing what to do with those words, but I’ve managed to lift my head and look at Bea, now. She’s sitting across from me, in her regular chair, drinking tea. She’s wearing a blue sweater, and while on some level I’m aware that she usually wears color, I recognize that being more present in my life in general means I am noticing little details like this and actually remembering them. It’s a strange feeling. 

“We’ve talked about this a little bit, have you thought of where your safe space might be? It can be made up or real,” she says to me. 

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I just…I don’t know.” 

She asks questions, describes her safe space, offers suggestions. I groan and bury my face. This shouldn’t be this hard. I can’t do this. I just can’t. 

After a few minutes of going in circles, Bea tries a different approach. “Maybe we need to think more general about this first.” She tells me about a client she had once who had found her safe space to be in a garden, that had a door with a lock and a fence. The girl didn’t want a space that went on and on. She also tells me about another client who needed a space that was outdoors, and not closed off in any way. “Do you think your space is indoors, or outdoors? Maybe in nature, by the ocean, or maybe being inside feels safer, having walls and a door.” 

“Not outside,” I tell her. I know that. 

“Is your space big or small?” She questions. 

I laugh to myself, thinking she must know the answer. “Small.” 

She nods, smiling. I think she had a good idea my space wasn’t going to be big. “Maybe your closet?” She asks. 

I think about it, turn the idea over in my mimd. “Noooo….” I say slowly. “I go there to feel safe, sorta, but it’s more to hide. It’s….I’m not sure, but that doesn’t feel right.” 

“You go there after you are already very scared and anxious and feeling bad. And it’s more about hiding from the scary things, and bad feelings, than going there to feel safe and regulate yourself.” She offers her thoughts on it, and she exactly right.

“Yes, that’s it.” I feel a little sad, as I realize where my safe space would be. “I could…I could use my room at my Grandma’s.” I say the words slowly, feeling sad, missing my Grandpa. I also feel a little silly. The whole exercise feels more like something a younger version of me should be doing, like this is not something a ‘real’ grown up would need to help regulate her emotions and stay grounded. 

“Yes, that’s great.” She sounds so excited, and as if I’ve done something good, chosen a good place. “Nothing bad ever happened there. Kenny wasn’t there, right? He wasn’t ever at your grandparents?” 

“No, he wasn’t there.” I tell her. 

“So it really was a safe space. You had there what you should have had all the time, in your own home.” It’s not until she says this that I realize where the sadness I’d been feeling was from. 

Bea leads me through everything I remember about that room using the 5 senses. I tell her about the beige-pink carpeting, and the four poster bed with the white eyelet comforter and the sheer white fabric tied to the bed posts– it wasn’t a canopy bed, but it felt like a fancy princess bed. We talk about the pink painted walls, and how my grandma and grandpa’s bedroom was right next door to mine, how the whole upstairs was close together, not like in my house where the bedrooms were separated from the main part of the house with a long hall, and spaces along the hall to be fairly far apart. I tell her how I remember watching Golden Girls with my Grandma and how I could hear her other show on tv as I fell asleep. I talk about how my grandparents bickered all the time, but it was in the fun, loving, safe way. How everything my grandma touched smelled like her signature perfume, White Diamonds. I tell her how my blanky and my dolls went everywhere with me. I talk about the small dresser with the pretty mirror and the glass globe type lamp with big pink flowers painted on it, and the dollhouse in the opposite corner of the room. I share how my grandma always made sleepy time tea before bed, and put honey in it. I describe the entire house, as it was back then. The one sense I freeze on is touch. She asks how the blankets felt, or the carpet when I sat on the floor to play. I just keep shaking my head and mumbling “I don’t know.” And I really don’t. I’m not a physical person– although Bea thinks I actually am, and that is why things like swimming, yoga, dancing and running can help me feel grounded– and I think I was pretty disconnected from my body even as a child, even when I was in a safe place. What I most remember is feeling wanted and loved, and as if there were no expectations. I remember feeling warm and safe, like I could relax when I was there. 

By the time we are done talking about my safe space, it’s time for my session to be over. “I can really picture your space,” Bea tells me, “I can feel how safe you felt there. So, when you start to be too far away, or if you are getting too panicked, too into the past memories, I can ask you to go to your safe space, to see that pink room, to see the white comforter, and hear your grandparents, to remember the taste of the tea your grandma made you. We can use this, it will be helpful.” 

We wrap up, chatting about errands and normal stuff, as I pull on my shoes and coat. I tell her I’m going to the grocery store, and then going to send Kay my weekly Monday text. I left feeling grounded and mostly okay, just a small part of me feeling sad that my safe space hadn’t been a daily reality.