Expressive Arts Carnival: Safety

The theme for this months Expressive Arts Carnival is:

Through drawing, painting, photography or any other visual means, create an image representing your relationship with “safety”.

As I’ve described before, my relationship with safety is tenuous and rather dysfunctional.  Allison asked me last week whether I felt safe in her office, I asked her what safe was… This interaction sums up my confusion towards safety.  Intellectually I know the definition of safety, but I don’t have a framework to put that experience in for myself.  At times, I consider it safe to be in the middle of an open field or park, where I can see if someone is coming to get me.  Sometimes I consider it safe at home with all of the windows and doors locked.  Other times, I consider it to be safe to be in the middle of an abusive event – there is a sense of having control over the situation.  So yes… dysfunctional.

Internally there is little sense of safety.  The closest I get to the feeling is when I’m out taking photos, or watching the ocean.  This is when I get a sense of calm.  The internal noise quietens down, and there is a sense of being.  This feeling is rare, and even when I’m doing those things, I don’t always feel it.  This highlights for me that safety can only be reached through a combination of factors, but most important are the internal ones.  If I can be in exactly the same situation twice, with one time feeling things slowing down, and another time them still racing… it indicates that my reactions are the deciding factor.  The problem is trying to establish why there is a different reaction.

I know that trust plays a big part in my feelings towards safety.  The ability to trust those around me, and myself.  I second guess the motivations of those around me, because I don’t understand that people would want anything to do with me, without wanting something from me.  I wish I could say that these are all old feelings, but they’re not.  I’m often only sought out at work to fix something for someone, or to do extra work… rarely is it for anything else.  Yet, I also know that I encourage this sort of impersonal interaction… if the “go away” neon sign above my head was any bigger, it would topple over into the razor wire topped concrete wall that surrounds me.  Yet, I still don’t feel safe inside my wall…

This is why I keep on doing the difficult work of healing.

This is why my entry into this months carnival is menacing, rather than optimistic.  Safety feels like some out of reach ideal that only happens to good people…


Now playing: Tracy Chapman – All That You Have Is Your Soul
via FoxyTunes

31 thoughts on “Expressive Arts Carnival: Safety

  1. Wow. I love this … the writing, the art. I love that you depicted safety as menacing. Because the illusion of it is dangerous. That’s where it resonates for me.

    And the concept of what’s safe changing … I don’t know why I never thought of that. It’s true. What’s safe once may never be again. I always want to pin safety down, so I cann crawl in and stay there. But it’s more fluid than that.

    As complex as humans, I guess.

    • Hi Holly,

      I also wish I could pin safety down… But, I believe that the feeling comes from internal safety, just as much (if not more) than anything external. So until there’s a sense of internal safety, I’m not sure how successfully the overall feelings of safety can be achieved. I think this is part of the reason why trauma survivors are often encouraged to create, or find, internal places of safety… that way, you’re always carrying safety with you.

      It’s definitely not an easy process; and yes, complex as well.

      Take care,

  2. I love how you’ve really thought about what safety means to you, and what it doesn’t mean, and all the complexities of that.

    I know all too well that feeling of not being safe, and yet somehow, magically over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself feeling safer and safer, without even realising it. Perhaps you’ve started this process by identifying a couple of places you do feel safe? I hope so.

    Thank you for sharing this. Please take care.

    • Hi Kerro,

      I’m really glad you’re feeling safety more and more…

      I look forward to seeing your submission into the carnival – not putting any pressure on or anything 🙂

      Take care,

  3. CG it is great the way you can talk about this. Sometimes we use pictures because we can’t find words but you have both which is the ideal. Your ahead of me on this one, my friend, cuz I can’t even submit a picture most of the time because I can’t bear to feel the emotion long enough to find a picture to connect to it and then submit. UGH. Watching and reading about you all helps me because sometimes I can follow and gain direction in my healing. I love the way you talk about the ocean and the calmness you feel. When I am at the ocean all my parts stop and look in wonderment and for once they are all silent in my head. It feels great and I don’t do it enough. I really like this post because it speaks volumes for all of us.

    • Hi Nansie,

      There’s no pressure to submit anything to the carnival, and because this is such a difficult subject for me, I wasn’t going to submit anything either. Then last week I started playing around with ideas for my own healing and came up with this. I wasn’t sure about submitting it, because it’s not a happy picture, but it’s a better representation of my struggles with the whole concept of safety.

      Even if you don’t submit anything for the carnival, just thinking about the prompts is a good step.

      The ocean is so calming, isn’t it? I’m glad you’ve found some places and things which help… remember that it’s one step at a time.

      I’m glad my writing helps 🙂

      Take care,

  4. Wow CG, I can relate to this so much!! Especially this paragraph:

    “I know that trust plays a big part in my feelings towards safety. The ability to trust those around me, and myself. I second guess the motivations of those around me, because I don’t understand that people would want anything to do with me, without wanting something from me. I wish I could say that these are all old feelings, but they’re not. I’m often only sought out at work to fix something for someone, or to do extra work… rarely is it for anything else. Yet, I also know that I encourage this sort of impersonal interaction… if the “go away” neon sign above my head was any bigger, it would topple over into the razor wire topped concrete wall that surrounds me. Yet, I still don’t feel safe inside my wall…”

    CG, I swear you could have been directly in the center of my brain when you wrote that. Right down to your work situation, and encouraging the impersonal interactions, and the “go away” neon sign above your head! I totally relate to that. I honestly feel like a freak because of this way of thinking, and interacting…or not interacting. I hope you don’t have to feel that way.
    I also understand the trust issues, and how they directly relate to the relationship with safety.
    I miss the ocean so much. I lived near the ocean for 13 years, and it was so calming for me. I miss it more than anything now.
    Thanks for putting your thoughts on safety into words. In some weird way, just knowing that I’m not alone in this way of thinking makes me feel a little less like a freak.
    I am glad that you are working so hard in your healing. Keep it up, and be good to yourself!

    • Hi Mareeya,

      You’re definitely not a freak. I’m told this sort of reaction is one of the expected outcomes of surviving abuse, and is strongly tied to a lack of trust. It takes trust and a certain amount of risk to let people in, even just a little bit. That can be really scary when you’re more used to people abusing that trust and those boundaries. Like most things, I think this is something we work through by taking small steps and trying out small ways of trusting and changing how we interact with people. I’m trying this in some small ways, and it is scary… I’m told in the long term it’s healthier to keep on working on it, and I have to believe that.

      I love the ocean. That’s part of the reason I hate living where I currently do, it’s too far from the ocean. I’m used to a 15-30 minute drive, but I live about 1.5 hours away now, and it’s a long drive over a mountain range. I’m glad you’re also finding places where you can experience that calm, safe feeling.

      Take care,

  5. This is really a great step forward, I think. I have to ask: Have you ever thought about your connection to safety in such a clear way?

    What you wrote here is filled with such awareness and insight into what you struggle with. Personally, I think it’s that awareness that keeps you going and drives you to work on healing. It’s incredible insight to know that safety, for you, is tied to trust of others. And trust in yourself. It’s a monumental challenge. But you know what the challenge is. I have always believed that trust in yourself helps with trust of others and that the two work together to help build a new narrative and help parts of you evolve.

    I know you often feel as though there is little hope for change. And that lack of safety drives that. And I know, probably, that it doesn’t do you much good in the moment to say that I always believe, for the 2 years I have known you, that you are on a path to healing that will eventually get you to experience more of that place of safety.

    Or to put my opening question another way, would you have been able to write something like this about safety say 5 years ago? Or 2 years ago?

    • Hi Paul,

      As I mentioned, I have talked about safety a couple of times in this blog, so it’s not a new topic for me. This is possibly the first time I’ve looked at it from this angle though.

      I agree that trust in myself needs to be the first step. As you know, I fail with this regularly. I don’t follow through, or see consequences, as I should. It’s a steep learning curve, one which I’m struggling with greatly. I realise that personal safety must be a priority.

      5 years ago I was in the midst of an abusive marriage, so safety was being able to keep the roof over my head and him from self-destructing. 2 years ago, I was starting to understand my triggers a little more, so was able to link the two concepts together.

      Trust is such a complicated issue.

      Take care,

      • I know you’ve talked about safety a lot here, but I don’t remember you being so honest with yourself about it. The angle is a big one!

        I don’t think you fail. I think you are working on all of this. In 10 or 20 years, maybe we can talk about whether you have failed or not. And I look forward to seeing how you write about safety and trust next time, and the time after.

        • I was going to write about Jenny’s post about needing to repeat the big ideas… maybe I should, it’s something I get caught up on.

          It sure feels like a failure. Maybe I’ll take this into Allison and see what she can help me make of it all.

          Thank you Paul.

          Take care,

  6. I just wanted to say that I like Paul’s comment and it seems to me from what you said that you’ve made a lot of progress even though it’s still a struggle. 🙂

  7. I think it’s so interesting that the picture looks like a view of the heart. I think the “heart” is where our sense of safety builds from.

    Sometimes it takes so much work to make the heart stable enough to support an environment of trust that I don’t have much energy left to enjoy having the structure.

    I haven’t figured out what a picture of trust looks like for me, but reading your post gave me a lot to think about.

    Thanks. Great post!


    • Hi Meredith,

      I can see where you can get the image of a heart from this… it’s interesting, as when I see it sometimes, I think of the inner view of the eye. That’s possibly because I got my eyes tested the other week though 🙂

      I think you’re right, that safety comes from the heart. I’m glad you’re at a point where you can feel that safety at times – even if it is a struggle. Reading that it is possible gives me hope that it can be more than a fleeting feeling.

      Thank you and take care,

  8. I don’t know how I got to where I’m at, feeling safe, taking the lead in my life, relating to other people and to my other people. I don’t know how I moved passed seeing the predictability of abusive interactions as safe, and not seeking the familiarity of those destructive patterns. Healing is so important, that ability to move passed surviving to living. Some days it still is a process that requires a lot of effort. But please don’t be discouraged. I’m finding that it’s very achievable.

    • Hi Storm Dweller,

      Thank you for understanding and offering hope. I’m having a bit of a bad time, so the support is greatly appreciated.

      It helps to know that others can make it through this, and that it’s that gradual healing process that makes the difference.

      I’m glad you’re able to feel safe in your current life… really glad. You deserve that sense of safety and so much more.

      Take care,

  9. Hey,

    Just wanted to say that as a concept I only truly understood what safety was about, was when I completely unravelled into understanding how destructive my abuse had been.

    I remember hearing someone say to really know safety is to really know fear.

    And it stuck with me because I knew somewhere i had fragmented to such an extent to survive I didn’t allow my fear to exist, I disassociated it fully.

    After time with myself and understanding how i was keeping that cycle going of not allowing myself to embrace that alter/aspect and the total terror that went with it.

    But then I realised that amazingly I found safety there in the heart of the storm, real safety to just be, and be afraid, quite an incredible thing for me who had NEVER felt safe ever in my life.

    My life is still survival and a mess but I am learning!

    Sorry if this is inappropriate just came across ur blog randomly and felt compelled.

    • Hi jack,

      Your comment got me thinking about fear… at the moment I couldn’t accurately identify when I am feeling fearful. I have an anxiety disorder, so my messages about fear, anxiety and being scared are very jumbled. I also tend to live within a state of constant anxiety, so I don’t get the different emotions and feelings coming through to help me differentiate between them.

      I can see why it was healing to be able to identify the reactions accurately though… part of being able to unravel what are present versus past reactions.

      I’m glad you felt compelled to comment, your comment made me think. Thank you.

      I’m also glad you’re able to feel safe. We’re all learning, every single day. That alone should give us cause for hope.

      Take care,

      • Hey,

        I had such severe panic attacks for so long, my life was on a cliff edge for years. Impending doom was an every day thing.

        All i can say is that for me it is quite different anxiety is a fear that never arrives or gets to be expressed, we are organic creatures taught to control and supress alot of stuff and it gets really hectic as Nansie says when we get programmed about what is right and wrong and it doesn’t fit with what we feel 😦

        Hey you can make yourself safe, it is possible!! You also need to remember, look how much you listen to yourself, look how much care and time you give yourself even when you probably think you dont!

        Thats some good stuff 🙂 and I bet your anxiety has some important stuff to teach you too, even if you are a thousand miles away from that feeling right now!!

        ur honest enough to see the menacing aspect of safety, to me it seems you are really healing.

        (excuse the DID breakout!)

  10. Jack,
    I like that saying “To really know safety is to really know fear”. This will stay with me and thanks.
    When I think of fear or what fear was to me I have discovered was really terror. We were taught to minimize everything so much that now with therapy I find the validation great but then I have to understand and accept just how bad things were. I was dismissed as being a complainer/hypochondriac whenever I tried to say that something was wrong. It was so drilled into me that I believed something was terribly wrong with me in life because there was really nothing wrong and I was somehow hallucinating it all? UGH…WE were so hardwired to support their system of distruction and then taught to again blame ourselves for noticing a/o pointing out there was something wrong.
    When trying to break thru the memories we now have to undo the programming we were given to dismiss it all before we can even get to the truth. I had to break thru layers of feeling like I was betraying my mother and family before I could even get near the truth. I had to accept that they lied to me first which was and still is so hard.

    CG I hope your hanging in there…I’m sending you good and soothing thoughts. Please be safe!

    • Terror is tough, courage to all that have had to face it.

      Yeah that destruction hardwiring is tough stuff, for some strange reason I find myself drawing people into my life who are fully committed to theirs 😦 UGH..

      Its really tough because often they are so threatened by ppl who are trying to heal themselves.

      That has been my recent struggle, Nansie u sound very wise thank you.

      • Thanks Jack…nice to think I can say something that helps! 🙂 I draw ppl into my life who are so into themselves too…very hard thing to discover that life is great as long as your living in someone elses world of needs and have none of your own. But…as we get stronger senses of self in our healing we start to discover, little by little, a need that belongs to us may come along and when it does the boat gets rocked big time. It’s almost like the ppl around us begin to struggle with not wanting us to have needs because then it is no longer all about them. UGH…I am going thru this horribly right now and it is so hard…….Thanks for your input too!

        • Hey Nansie,

          Totally understand, I began to see it in my relationships I would project pretty badly UGH….So i hold fully my partial blame, I would desperately try and save girlfriends who were mirroring my abuse and try and make everything OK which would be great until they got really genuinely strong in themselves, then I would feel lost and go into a oh no whats my purpose!! phase but it never was that abusive or destructive because I knew what I was doing somewhere, on some level and the relationship would fade out.

          But amazingly when I began to realise that I was PROJECTING and started to focus on my pain and literally apply those rules to myself, life got very very strange not only because i was having huge recall and feeling every second of the disassociation, ppl got really angry at me, I mean serious life threatening stuff from out of nowhere, ppl i thought i loved and loved me had no interest in reciprocating support, I became the enemy.

          What was very sad is my previous life threatening situations had always been with men, so I had little defence against a womans attack physically and mentally etc.

          And even relationships where I had been hugely supportive and successful in helping people in recovery from before I started mine, when i said, hey look what happened to me they had ZERO interest and dismissed me lol

          And realising male friends did the same thing in different ways was tough 2, I was always listening and understanding, and looking after their girlfriends when they were in trouble ….sigh….

          Nansie does my sharing help??? 😛

          UGH CG I am sorry its such a long reply on ur blog! I understand if u dont post it 🙂

          • Thanks Jack and yes it does help. It will be an ongoing challenge for me in life now to bring my needs up to par in importance to everyone elses needs. I dissociated myself away over the years and then I set my life up with ppl so that they’d dismiss my needs the same way I had. The best way to do that in life is to be with narcissists. That way everything is all about them and my inner structure got reinforced to stay the way it was. Now I am changing and getting stronger and yea resistance around me happens. I try to be patient with them tho because I contributed greatly to life being this way and I needed it like this too. So now by me getting stronger the rug gets pulled out from under them too. We contribute so much to the dynamics around us in life and I try not to forget that. I still have so far to go but I hope I can continue gaining strength and the ppl around me can continue adjusting…even tho they don’t like it one bit…Thanks again.

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