You know, a place where you might go when disaster strikes. A storm cellar. The southwest corner of the basement. (I have been in the Midwest a long time, haven't I?) You get the picture, it's that place of retreat when the storm nears. A physical safe-haven to protect yourselves and the ones you love the most. Yes, even the animals. (Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a cat to follow a disaster plan to the basement in a timely manner while her owner wails out of concern for her beloved pet? No? Consider yourself lucky.) Peruse any emergency kit planning guide and you'll find reference to a "safe place."
It stands to reason then, that our hearts and minds, as well as our physical bodies, need somewhere to take refuge when times are hard. A good friend of mine shared this idea with me about five years ago, right after the second inpatient hospitalization with our eldest adopted daughter. In a classic case of "had I known then what I know now," our limited understanding of our daughter's needs enabled us to come up painfully short when helping her put this idea to good use.
Us: So, it would probably be a good idea for you to have somewhere safe to go when you feel all the feelings you seem to have so often.
Her: I guess.
Us: Okay, good. Let us know where you choose.
When I read this to myself, I cringe at my perception (worse than the reality, but still…) of what the conversation sounded like. My mind reassures me that we did the best we could with our beginner-level skill set of parenting a kid from hard places, but my heart aches that we couldn't understand that those very typical, warm, fuzzy feelings that most other kids feel, when enveloped by their safe place, were all but absent from her repertoire of emotional safety.
She couldn't make a safe place. She had never seen one before.
Unfortunately, we determined that all of the years she had spent with us, living in a safe place, should have erased all of that old, unsafe, traumatic memory and replaced it with, you know, new, happy, safe ones.
But that's not what happened.
What happened was that although she learned our home was a safe place, the constant replay in her head of the living nightmare that was her childhood didn't disappear. This made for a really bad combination of feelings under one roof. Her hellish memories bubbled and simmered to the surface until she got to a place where she could let them all out. Her safe place.
Our safe place.
Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, it's very plain to see. But at the time. Well, not so much.
I read an article the other day about how a person can become a "safe place." The article stated:
And I want so badly to end this story by saying that our daughter has finally found her safe place. And that we have been thrilled to have the "honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing."This is the hard part of relationships: entering into marriage and parenting knowing full well that you’re going to be someone’s safe place, but not knowing what that really means until one day when the jolting realization is upon you. It’s an honor that some people go their entire lives without experiencing. It is the rawest part of the human experience, holding another person’s hand as they navigate through difficulty.When you finally see it for what it really is, rather than thinking that this other person is just trying to make life hard for you by being angry or sad all the time, it changes things. This person feels safe with you. They need you to help them make sense of something that is bothering them. It is beautiful, this unfiltered, real love.
But neither would be true. At least not entirely.
Although, I can honestly say that we continue to hold out hope that one day our daughter will find that place that makes her feel safe, and that we will look back on this opportunity with time and wisdom at our sides and see the beauty in the ashes.